§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Lord Hurd of Westwell rose to call attention to the state of Her Majesty's prisons; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank all those concerned, particularly my own Front Bench, for their understanding and support. We have just passed through a general election in which the centrepiece of argument were the public services of this country. Speeches and promises poured out on schools, transport and hospitals. Much less was said on prisons and the Prison Service. That will have come not as a great surprise to those of us who follow these matters. Discussion of prisons can be awkward for those who like to keep the discussion of crime very simple and like to portray the sending of a man or woman to prison as the just and happy end of that particular story. But when an offender is sent to prison, that is not the end of the story. The curtain does not then come down on justice done with no more to be said. On the contrary, 1090 the sending of someone to prison is the beginning of a new chapter and perhaps a new drama. The content of that chapter—what happens then—is crucial, not just for the prisoner concerned but for the society into which he or she will one day be released.
§ The Home Secretary said in his first speech in that position in another place that he would welcome a pause in party warfare on crime and matters related to crime. I welcome that. I have never believed that this is a good subject for partisan debate, with one party crudely arrayed against another. But that cannot mean that there should be a relaxation of parliamentary scrutiny of these matters. On the contrary, I believe that there should be considerably more scrutiny, particularly as regards prisons. That is especially so in this House because there are noble Lords in all parts of the House whose knowledge and experience can be brought to bear.
§ I have not had time to delve deep into the recently published Halliday report on sentencing or to analyse the Home Secretary's speech last week on that subject. At first sight it seemed to be, as many of these documents are, a mixture of good ideas and some more suspect ideas. My main point today is that it is no good having ideas and putting forward proposals if the instruments at the Government's disposal are blunt. It is no good putting forward headlines like the headline on the top of the Home Office handout, "Put the sense back into sentencing". I do not know how many times I have heard that particular phrase. Today we are discussing the Prison Service. If that instrument is blunt and damaged, it does not matter how many laws we pass and it does not matter how much money the Government spend out of the taxpayer's pocket. The purpose will not be fulfilled if the instrument is defective.
§ Last week it was announced that a record number of our fellow citizens—66,736—are imprisoned in England and Wales. I remind the House that about 11,000 of those have not—or at least not yet—been convicted of any offence. In 1991, the figure was just under 46,000. The Home Office forecast that it will rise by the year 2008 to 83,500. The figures are 46,000, 66,000 and 83,000. That is a formidable rise and a sad commentary on the state of our society. The cost of imprisonment is huge. A prison place costs £100,000 to provide. Keeping a prisoner in one of Her Majesty's prisons costs about £27,000 a year whereas, as I understand it, Eton College jogs along at just under £20,000 a year.
§ I should say at this point that there has been improvement since I knew prisons 15 years ago as Home Secretary. There has been much investment in new and modern prisons and standards in several respects are notably higher. Private involvement has become a much bigger factor. That is a subject on which I changed my mind. I started out as being hostile in principle, but experience led me to change my mind and I authorised the very first experiments on the subject. I now accept, having visited both kinds of prison several times, the dual system, under the auspices of the Home Office, with a degree of competition between the two systems. I certainly do 1091 not dismiss the improvements that have been made and the hard work that has gone into them. But we should concentrate today on what is wrong. That is our job. There is much that is wrong and in parts of the service it is right to talk of crisis.
§ I hope the House will join me in thanking three public servants who have helped to keep this subject alive and to tell the story as it is. The first is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales—the man who was asked in 1991 to write the report after the Strangeways riots in Manchester. Exactly 10 years later, in January this year, he gave a lecture in which he analysed what had been done and, more importantly, what had not been done to carry out the recommendations that he made after Strangeways.
The second is the Director-General of the Prison Service, Mr Martin Narey. I mention him not just because he is a notable public servant but because he made a speech earlier this year which is the most remarkable that I have read from an official in the service of the Government for many years—perhaps ever. After accepting some detailed criticisms, Mr Narey went on to say that,
we have to decide, as a Service, whether this litany of failure and morale neglect continues indefinitely or whether we are going to reform … I have no wish to be a Director General of a Service which is going to duck these issues … unless, in addition to the unequivocal support of Ministers and the backing of an outstanding, committed and cohesive Board I believe I have the support, encouragement and determination of all of you … I'll find an easier way of earning a living. I am not prepared to continue to apologise for failing prison after failing prison. I've had enough of trying to explain the very immorality of our treatment of some prisoners and the degradation of some establishments".
There is a blazing fire behind those remarks. They were provoked, and rightly provoked, by Mr Narey's knowledge of how much remains to be done.
§ The third public servant I would mention is the retiring Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham. He has sounded a trumpet to break the silence of which I have been complaining. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of chairing a meeting at Church House. More than 500 people gathered together there. It seemed to some of us important that Sir David should have the opportunity for a final blast on that trumpet. He used the occasion to excellent effect. I am well aware that Sir David's brisk military prose and his clear, unequivocal conclusions did not always find favour with those to whom his reports were addressed. He is retiring in the coming weeks, but he has done a heroic job of great importance to us all. We owe him a great deal. From everything I hear, his successor, in a very different style, Anne Owers, will be equally resolute 'to ram home the necessary messages to Ministers, to Parliament and to the public.
I turn to one or two specific points. The first is overcrowding. Fifty-six of our 138 prisons are overcrowded: Preston is 78 per cent overcrowded; Shrewsbury is 89 per cent overcrowded; Leeds is 64 per cent overcrowded. The Prison Reform Trust, which I chair, received last week a letter from the Board of
Visitors of Norwich Prison where a new programme is intended to increase the overcrowding. The board of visitors has allowed me to quote the letter. It states:
The BOV at Norwich unanimously feel that the cell size in these blocks is too small on humanitarian grounds … Overcrowding inmates who are forced to live in a minute space and eat in a lavatory is not acceptable … We see no good reason why inmates should be so treated. If the conditions are not acceptable, rehabilitation will be affected and the costs of return to prison because of re-offending will be greater than any savings made".
That is why the Lord Chief Justice referred to overcrowding as the AIDS virus which is debilitating the whole of our system.
That leads to my second specific point; namely, purposeful activity. The Prison Service set one of those famous "key performance indicators", but has not met it. Purposeful activity is sustained for an average of 23.8 hours per week, which is only 10 minutes longer than it was 10 years ago. But the bureaucratic phrase, "purposeful activity", does not describe a luxury, but a necessity. Some 63 per cent of the young men in prison in this country left school before they were 16 years old. The Prison Service has stated that 65 per cent of prisoners are ineligible for 96 per cent of the jobs available. That is why the chief inspector said that,
just locking up is a soft, not a hard option".
If one leaves it at simply locking up, those who are released, in particular the young, will find it virtually impossible to get a job. We cannot afford not to do better.
§ I should like to ask about community prisons, because I believe that it is extremely important that this recommendation from the Lord Chief Justice should be acted upon. I shall not dwell on the point, but recently I met a probation officer who operated in a district in the Home Counties. He had to deal with 67 different prisons which had held people now in his care in his district. What chance is there of effective aftercare when prisoners are released? It is a bureaucratic nightmare. Insufficient emphasis has been put on the need for prisons to be close to offenders.
§ I turn now to what I believe is a crucial point, which is the question of stable and competent leadership. There are many signs of inadequate management. I shall cite only one. It arose from Written Answers in another place. It illustrates the merry-go-round of top management in the Prison Service. Over the past five years, 58 of our prisons have had four or more governors or acting governors. That is a baleful sign which would suggest to anyone who has had experience of administration that there is a shortage of able people in the upper ranges of the Prison Service. As a result, those few able people have to be shunted quickly to places experiencing danger and difficulty. I believe that that is one of the doubts and anxieties which plagues the Director-General. I hope that the Minister will feel able to reply to these specific points when he comes to wind up the debate.
§ All this adds up to a powerful argument for intensifying our efforts to find appropriate punishments outside prison which will satisfy those 1093 who pass judgment on offenders. No doubt other noble Lords will wish to dwell on that point. But as regards the Prison Service, strong humanitarian reasons may be put forward in support of decent conditions—austere, but decent conditions—for those who have to go to prison.
§ As well as humanitarian reasons, there are reasons of public safety. I become extremely vexed when people comment that those of us who are interested in prisons should spend our time being concerned with the victims of crime. I strongly support Victim Support and what is being done in that area. However, we do no service to a victim by making a hash of the treatment of the offender. On the contrary, a prison which is overcrowded—as happens; a prison whose governor changes every year—as happens; a prison run according to the culture of an outdated trade union—as happens; a prison where locking up seems to be the be-all and end-all of life—as happens—such a prison serves as a reservoir for future crime. In such a prison, new offences and new victims are being prepared day by day.
§ For those reasons, it is important that we should have this debate. I appeal to the Minister—whom I remember in his giddy days as a Back-Bencher as a lively and attractive performer—not to lose his openness on this subject. I appeal, too, to this House: do not let this subject go away. We can approach it, as will the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in a moment, from the point of view of human rights and humanitarian sympathies, or we can approach it from the point of view of public safety. We can approach it as natural readers of the Guardian newspaper or as natural readers of the Daily Telegraph. But no matter what the angle from which we approach this subject, the future of our prisons is a part of the future of our society and we must make a better fist of running them than we do today.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, it is my double privilege to welcome the Minister, from whom so much is expected, and to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, from whom so much has already been received and continues to be received—not least the speech we have just heard. He may feel that it is appropriate that he should speak while standing on his feet, while I am reduced to this chair, because he has put forward many glorious arguments. But after all, the noble Lord was head boy at Eton. Some noble Lords may not realise what that means. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, would do so. He was the cleverest boy to be lumped in among 1,000 others in the school. I was only number two among my number.
I know that the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that my official reason for dragging myself here with some difficulty this afternoon is to pay tribute to the retiring Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham. I venture to say that no one else in my lifetime has done so much in support of the reform of prisons. What are the other candidates for that short 1094 list? I could name Lord Butler, who was Home Secretary, Lord Gardiner, who was Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who is to follow my contribution. He was a Minister of State at the Home Office as well as being a Leader of the House. Above all, the noble Lord has written many books, which I hope that all noble Lords will have read. However, as I have said, my main object is to pay tribute to Sir David Ramsbotham, both for what he has done and for the fairness he has shown.
The state of our prisons is pretty bad. It is difficult to tell whether matters are getting any better. Recently I read a report from the Prison Reform Trust. It sets out a great many facts, some of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. Those include overcrowding, which we all know about and which is absolutely rife. Everyone knows, too, that far more has to be done. However, there are only two ways of tackling the problem. The first is to build more prisons while the second is to have fewer prisoners. What should we be doing? I doubt whether we should be pursuing either of those courses.
It is forecast that the prison population may rise to 83,000 inmates by 2008. At its lowest point, under a Conservative government before the tenure of Mr Michael Howard as Home Secretary, the population stood at 41,000. Within a fairly short period of time, the numbers serving in prison have doubled. It is difficult to explain why that should be the case.
The other step which could be taken would be to increase the number of prisons, which would entail spending a great deal more money. Neither political party seems greatly in favour of that course at present. However, one of two courses must be taken: either we have to reduce the number of prisoners or we have to spend much more money on prisons.
Sir David Ramsbotham raised another very important point which I shall not go into in detail because it is rather new to me; namely, the cult of the manager. I think that it is fatal, but I shall leave the detail of that point to other speakers in the debate.
Before I sit down—perhaps that is not quite the right expression—before I become silent, I should like to cite one or two examples of what it means to be attacked in prison; namely, to be attacked by criminals while in prison. People sometimes think of me as being soft on crime—a "softy". I cannot judge that, but they forget that I am the only person here to introduce a Bill to help victims. But, again, that was a long time ago.
Let me turn to the present day. Not long ago, my eldest daughter, the famous historian Antonia Fraser—I hope I am not out of order in recommending her book on Marie Antoinette—was in her house in Campden Hill Square, in the afternoon, when two men carrying a crowbar descended on her, and she was threatened with her life unless she coughed up her treasure. She coughed up some of it, but I am glad to say, being very gutsy, she kept a lot of it to herself.
1095 Curiously enough—this is rather peculiar—my eldest son had had a similar experience not long before. Two men came in—in each case the invaders were masked—and said, "Cough up or we'll do you"—"do you" meaning "kill you" as far as he was concerned. He managed to get away with it quite lightly, again by being gutsy.
Those are two examples of what can happen to each of us. That does not prove anything in itself, but one has to ask oneself about those two couples. They probably were not wicked in any known sense, but somehow or other that was part of their way of life. They were young, aged about 20—I cannot be certain of their ages because they were masked—and one can only guess that they had probably been in trouble before. That is very likely. However that may be, we must assume that they had not been handled in quite the perfect way in custody.
So we are dealing with young men of 20 who go in and threaten what almost amounts to murder in two different cases. There must be many such cases. What are we going to do about these people? Even after more than 50 years' visiting prisons, I do not pretend to know the perfect answer. Who does?
I have a great new friend now, Bob Tierney, who was in prison for 17 years. He is now a probation officer who does special work under the Home Office. It must trust him. The recent Home Secretary, Mr Straw, wrote an introduction to a book produced by Bob Tierney and a companion. He is a prisoner who has made good. What does he say about his old way of life? He says that his crucial experience was meeting a special probation officer, a woman.
He is an example of what can be done in prison. It is awfully hard to expect prison officers to perform miracles. If we have to look anywhere for a big change in attitude to prisoners, it should come through a bigger involvement of the Probation Service. Bob Tierney believes that an enlightened probation officer can do far more than we ever imagine.
Of course there are other answers. My friend, Jonathan Aitken, had a very short experience of prison. He set a good example in the Christian leadership that he gave there. He said, "Drugs, drugs, drugs. You must keep them off drugs", which, of course, is a part of the wider policy process that I mentioned earlier. Above all, there should be a reduction of the numbers in prison and an increase in the resources available.
We have a tremendous task in front of us. It is very difficult to say whether things are getting better or worse, but there is obviously room for a great deal of improvement. This country has a sensitive conscience when it is pricked—which it often is not. Jesus Christ said,I was in prison and you came to me".My friend Malcolm Muggeridge, many, many years later, said that Christ died also for Judas. I believe that Sir David Ramsbotham, backed up by people like the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, is the kind of man who will prick the sensitive conscience of the nation.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Windlesham
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Earl. His final words will be ringing in our ears as the debate continues throughout today. There has been no debate on penal policy in this House during the past half-century or more which has not been an opportunity for the noble Earl to speak with the eloquence and spirit that he has shown again today. Indeed, he initiated many of them himself. I may perhaps say to him, on behalf of all Peers who are present, that although he may be in poor physical health and lacking mobility, he is certainly not lacking in spirit. We admire what he has said.
The whole House will also have listened with close attention to what was said with such authority and eloquence by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. I am open to correction by those with longer memories than myself, but I do not believe that any former Home Secretary in recent times—with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—has maintained an active interest in penal reform after having demitted office. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has not only maintained an active interest but, as chairman of the Prison Reform Trust for a lengthy period of years, has made an important personal contribution.
The timing of the debate is opportune. There is a new Home Secretary and a relatively new Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, both outsiders in departmental terms. They will need to be aware of, and resist, the multiplicity of factors which can so quickly narrow the vision of those who assume the responsibility they both now have when faced with the perennial problems of crime and what is known optimistically as "crime control".
As recently as last week, two reports were published by the Home Office, one short and one very substantial, the latter having been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. Both documents bear directly on the subject of our debate today. The first was the report of an unannounced inspection by members of the Prisons Inspectorate at Lancaster Castle; and the second the long awaited and keenly anticipated review of the sentencing framework for England and Wales by John Halliday, a senior Home Office official, which was completed shortly before his retirement.
Lancaster Castle is one of the oldest prisons in England and Wales—if not the oldest—and it contains only category "C" prisoners. In his report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, whom no one has ever dared to call complacent, states without reservation that an undoubted success story in recent years has been the increased standard and treatment of, and conditions for, prisoners held in category "C" training prisons.
Too often, he comments, the description "training prison" has been a caricature, but at Lancaster, in ancient buildings designed for very different purposes, the regime has been evaluated by his team and found to be positive, with a special commendation for the post-release follow-up work carried out in conjunction with NACRO and the East Lancashire ex-offenders group. I cite this example to show that good work and appropriate standards can be found in the prison 1097 system. Not all is brutality, drug-taking, overcrowding, and lack of work or of positive regimes— although unhappily all of those features are to be found elsewhere in the system.
There are many good people working in the Prison Service, led by a very effective director-general, Martin Narey, to whom tribute was paid by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. It is not the purpose of debates such as this to demoralise them.
Nevertheless, the reality is that the flaws to which I have referred persist. The chief inspector's outspoken reports have been invaluable in pointing out the inadequacy of many current policies in terms of the practical impact that they have on standards, both in individual establishments and more generally, as pointed out in thematic reports.
Above all else, as Sir David Ramsbotham insisted in his Radio 4 interview on Monday—aptly titled "Parting Shot"—more money is required to counter the prevailing Treasury-led culture of reducing the overall cost of imprisonment. He put it in vivid terms: all that he heard was "Cuts, cuts, cuts". I add my own tribute to Sir David, whom I know well, and convey my best wishes—and, I have no doubt, those of the whole House—to his admirable successor, Anne Owers, who was until recently the director of Justice.
One example of where shortage of money and inadequacy of provision coincide is to be found in the rapid growth in the number of women prisoners. Last year, a fine independent report followed a lengthy and comprehensive review undertaken for the Prison Reform Trust by a committee chaired by Professor Dorothy Wedderburn. The initial response by the then Minister of State, Paul Boateng, was disappointing to say the least. I hope that the current Minister of State, whom we welcome to penal debates in this House, will tell us what progress has been made since then as regards the report on women in prison.
The primary focus of the second of the two recent publications to which I referred in my opening remarks, entitled Making Punishment Work, is the sentencing framework. It also contains some penetrating comments about the shortcomings of the prison system as a whole and its inability, as presently organised, to achieve the objectives of protecting the public by means of reducing the levels of crime and the incidence of reoffending, as well as punishing convicted offenders.
The Halliday report, as it will be known, concludes that while the Prison Service is making efforts to increase the availability of programmes aimed at preventing reoffending, the expansion is unlikely to extend to short-sentence prisoners. I quote from the report:The weakness of the short prison sentence as a means of reducing crime, for the majority of those who receive it, has come through very strongly during our review".The report reminds us that more than half of all prisoners—a significant statistic—are reconvicted of an offence within two years.
1098 So what is the remedy—if there is one? What is the most prudent course? Is it a caricature of a distinguished and thoughtful analysis—which is what Mr Halliday and his assistants have produced—to say they have concluded that the only policy likely to be effective is longer periods spent in custody? Is that what it means? If so, the unavoidable result of such a policy, if implemented, would be for England and Wales to surge even closer to the top of the international league in terms of the proportion of persons per 100,000 of the population who are in prison.
Longer prison sentences of 12 months or more were also found by Halliday to have weaknesses. Although the language used in the report is circumspect and concentrates on the proportion of the sentence to be served in custody before release, the review states that while,special steps are made to protect the public from further offending by the more predictably dangerous released prisoners, for the great majority of released prisoners the impact of the sentence on their behaviour after release is questionable".I urge Ministers to take these well-informed comments into account when considering the effect of a prison sentence on future offending—namely, a focus on crime reduction—as well as the more newsworthy ones emphasising the need for punishment.
My final remarks will no doubt be echoed by other speakers. Of all the activities within the average prison, educational programmes, including literacy skills, have a scandalously low priority. Libraries are frequently closed because of staff shortages, and there is little money for books or other resources, with local education authority staff or other contract providers being few and far between. The only change for the better, so far as I can see, is the attraction of computers and the opportunity for inmates to acquire basic information technology skills within the capacity of those who have low standards of literacy and numeracy.
I declare an interest as a patron of the Prisoners Education Trust. I am delighted to see the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, on the list of speakers. She, too, is a patron of the trust, as is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. The Lord Chief Justice has gone on record more than once in declaring that the importance of education in prisons has never received the attention it deserves. It is hard for us in an assembly such as this to remember that the ability to read, write and count is not only valuable in itself, but that acquiring such skills can lead to greater self-respect and hence better relations with others, which in turn can lead to fewer occasions for offending.
The new Home Secretary was formerly Secretary of State for Education. We wish him well in his new responsibilities. He will find, I fear, as most of his predecessors at the Home Office have done, that ministerial responsibility for the prisons is an onerous and thankless burden. But he has broad shoulders. While the debate on the sentencing review gets under way—and I suspect that it will dominate public discussion for many months to come—and the ponderous system of criminal justice begins to adjust 1099 to new and radical proposals, let Mr Blunkett act now to achieve a less ambitious but far more readily attainable objective; namely, to extend the provision for basic educational skills in prisons to short-term, medium-term and longer-term prisoners alike. It would be an apt personal crusade on which to embark.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I agreed with just about every word of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, especially his strictures on the practice of propelling senior managers around the prison system like objects in a pin-ball machine. If one can get the management right, many of the problems in existence at the lower level would sort themselves out as a result. I hope that the Minister will pay close attention to that part of the noble Lord's remarks.
As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, pointed out, we have a new Home Secretary, as well as a new Minister in this House whom we warmly welcome to these debates. In fact, there is no member of the original Home Office team left in Queen Anne's Gate. I hope that does not mean that we shall have a culture of "Yes, Minister", as the new boys are pushed around by their civil servants—although that is extremely unlikely to happen with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said that we should concentrate on what is wrong in the Prison Service. I am afraid that that is what we shall have to do in this debate. I wish to begin by referring to a subject that was dealt with this morning in another place; namely, the question of asylum seekers in prison, which was also raised by my noble friend Lord Dholakia in debate on the gracious Speech. Indeed, it has been commented on in some detail by the Refugee Council. The practice has been condemned by UNHCR, Amnesty International, the BMA, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the chief executive of NACRO, the POA and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, as well as dozens of other agencies.
The Government agree that it is wrong in principle to detain asylum seekers in prison when they have committed no criminal offence. They are committed to the provision of special purpose detention centres for those asylum seekers who need to be held in custody. In the course of the summer, three new establishments are being opened in Harmondsworth, Yarl's Wood and Dungavel, which will provide an extra 1,600 places—less the 100 at the old detention centre at Harmondsworth which is being closed. That compares with the 1,144 people who are presently detained in our prison system under the asylum Act. The additional accommodation, which will come on stream this summer, will therefore be more than enough to deal with present requirements.
The Government have explained that the main reason for the detention of asylum seekers is to speed up removals of people who reach the end of the process from the 12,000 figure they were aiming at last year to 30,000 in the current year. It was agreed in 1994 that the Prison Service would provide 500 places for the detention of asylum seekers, plus an additional 1100 500 places last year as an interim measure for about a year until the new centres came on stream. That number has already been exceeded. If possible, I should like the Minister to give an assurance that, when the new centres are fully operational, no more detainees will be held in prisons unless they have committed offences or unless there is some immediate operational reason why they cannot be placed in a detention centre. Moreover, in the case of Northern Ireland, can the Minister say whether consultations on alternatives to the use of Magilligan and Maghaberry have been completed? If so, can he tell us what decision has been made in that respect?
There is no way of telling whether the increase in detention is really accounted for by people at the end of the process, as claimed, or whether there is a growing propensity to detain people on arrival because Ministers say they cannot give any breakdown of the numbers in detention. I suspect that more are being detained at the start of the process, as evidenced by a growing number of approaches to the agencies from Liverpool, Cardiff and other prisons where the graduates from Oakington finish up. The impression gained by the Bail Circle is that virtually all the detainees in Liverpool are Oakington alumni. I am told that there are major difficulties there: lack of interpretation facilities and of specialist medical care—especially for the mentally ill— and of local access to legal advice. There are only three competent firms of solicitors in Liverpool to deal with over 100 asylum seekers detained in that prison.
The UNHCR recently visited Rochester and Belmarsh. It found that the majority of asylum seekers in those two prisons had not exhausted their appeal rights. In its view, such detention involves a prejudgment of the merits of their claims and is therefore a cause for concern. Does the Minister agree that a least a snapshot should be taken of the profile of asylum seekers in detention so that we know what stage of the process they have reached, even if it is said to be too expensive to provide statistics on a regular basis?
Some of the prisons where asylum detainees are being held are totally unsuitable for the purpose. As the Minister will be aware, a case arose just recently at the Welsh Assembly where complaints were made about conditions in Cardiff prison. My honourable friend Mark Oaten tells me that there is no education for detainees in Winchester. I understand that they are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day because of staff shortages. That is utterly intolerable. The Prison Service should be given the additional resources to enable it to deal both properly and humanely with the extra duties that have been thrust upon it.
During Question Time yesterday, my noble friend Lady Williams raised a particular case of torture victims being detained in prison, which the Minister said he would look into if the detail of such matters was drawn to his attention. I sent the noble Lord the report by the medical foundation on which my noble friend based her question. It shows that five out of the 11 people in its sample who claimed to have been tortured were detained on arrival and that three others were detained after arrival but at the beginning of the 1101 asylum process. The foundation concludes that there are no satisfactory mechanisms in place to ensure that the Government's commitment to ensuring that a history of torture should weigh strongly in favour of temporary admission is being honoured. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell the House what steps he intends to take on the matter.
Most detainees obtain bail when they apply for it under the 1971 Act. Presumably more would do so if Part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was brought into operation. But solicitors and agencies helping people with bail are already experiencing enormous difficulty in keeping up with the demand. They might well be overwhelmed if they had to advise professionally on routine bail hearings after eight and 36 days, as provided in the 1999 Act. That was an important component of the legislation. It simply will not do to postpone the introduction of Part III indefinitely. The Government have a duty to ensure that agencies are resourced to cope with routine bail hearings, and they must say how and when they intend to do so. Obviously, it will be quite expensive. However, as more detainees will be freed on bail, there could be a net saving of public money. Will the Minister seek to exercise the powers under Section 53 of 1999 Act to apply the general presumption of release in Section 46 to applications for bail under the 1971 Act?
There was to have been an additional detention centre at Aldington in Kent, but that ran into trouble with the planning process. I suggested at the time that the Prison Service should sell the land for housing. Perhaps the Minister can now deal with that proposal, as his department has had three months to think about it. If the 300 places that were to have been provided at the new Aldington are no longer needed for immigration detainees, so much the better. The Prison Service can use the money for other purposes, instead of having to rely on the PFI for that amount at least.
I should like to refer briefly to the report of the Public Accounts Select Committee in another place on the refinancing of HM Prison Altcourse's PFI contract. I believe that the report should be compulsory reading for those who consider that PFI is the only way to pay for large public sector capital works. The companies involved were allowed to make a windfall profit of £10.7 million by refinancing the borrowings that they took out for the building cost. At the same time, the Treasury accepted an increase in their termination liability of £47 million in return for a miserable payment of £ 1 million. The Prison Service is, in effect, locked into the deal with the private companies until the year 2021 irrespective of how well or badly they manage the prison. At the time of the deal I understand that half of the £1 million had already been handed back in the form of a payment previously withheld because of the contractor's underperformance in delivering the required service.
Altcourse is a very well-run prison. Indeed, the chief inspector wrote a glowing report on it after an inspection in November 1999. He found that it had good management, as well as excellent relations 1102 between staff and prisoners. I wonder whether the Prison Service has tried to apply some of the lessons that were learnt at Altcourse to the public sector, as advised by Sir David. He points out, for instance, that Altcourse managed to deliver 40 hours of purposeful activity a week, as compared with the figure we have already been given of only 23 hours on average throughout the Prison Service.
Among other innovative schemes, Altcourse had become involved in a pilot project in partnership with the Liverpool Youth Service, the Liverpool Drug and Alcohol Action Team and the voluntary sector aimed at young people with a substance abuse problem. The plan was for a seamless throughcare scheme to support young people both before and after release from Altcourse. The chief inspector said that that should be evaluated as a potential model for other establishments. Has that evaluation been carried out, or has the model been adopted in any other establishments? I could not find any mention of it in Sir Duncan Nichol's What Works, the first report of the Joint Prison/Probation Accreditation Panel.
It seems clear that to cut reoffending, programmes for substance abusers need to extend into the period after release, and two other schemes described in the Nichol report do just that. But all the schemes for cutting reoffending seem to be developing within their own proprietary space, with no apparent cross-fertilisation between them. There are several different approaches to sex offenders; for example, one in the West Midlands, which appeared to be exclusively probation based, the Thames Valley Sex Offender Treatment Programme, which also appeared to be probation based, the Prison Service Sex Offender Treatment Programme, the Grendon Underwood Therapeutic Community, which deals with sex offenders and other dangerous and violent offenders, and the Gartree Therapeutic Community. Dovegate, which is opening shortly, will, I understand replicate the techniques developed over many years at Grendon.
It is, of course, particularly difficult to find out what works for long-term prisoners and lifers. The Nichol report comments on Gartree that lifers coming on to the scheme there do so early in their sentences. So any benefit may be lost before the prisoners are eligible for release. One would think that attempts to deal with offending behaviour of all kinds ought to be concentrated towards the end of a sentence and continue after release. In my opinion, we as politicians have a duty to understand how the prison and probation services are trying to tackle offending behaviour. That would be an ideal subject for a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. I know that there is strong resistance to the notion that we should have more Select Committees at this end of the Palace, but I ask the Government and the usual channels to think about that proposal. I am encouraged to make that suggestion by the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for more scrutiny, particularly in this House.
Finally, I want to draw your Lordships' attention to a survey of young prisoners at Swinfen Hall YOI conducted by Dr Karen Bryan as part of the chief inspector's inspection of November 2000 at that 1103 prison. Swinfen Hall was dubbed a "centre of excellence" by the chief inspector. One wonders how there can be such a wide variation in standards as exists between different YOIs, with that establishment at one end of the spectrum and places such as Feltham and Stoke Heath at the other.
Dr Bryan found that a significant proportion of the young offenders had speech, language and communication difficulties. Prisoners with those impairments are more likely to leave prison with unresolved problems that could lead to reoffending. She suggested that screening for those difficulties should be developed and validated and included with educational prison entry tests. Polmont YOI in Scotland has a well established programme to deal with offenders who have speech, language and communication difficulties, states Dr Bryan. She suggests that that model could be applied elsewhere. The chief inspector in his covering report commends Dr Bryan's analysis to the director-general and to the DIES which needs to think about remedial education for those disadvantaged young men. It would be useful to know whether that idea has been pursued.
What is very worrying about Dr Bryan's findings, which are presumably typical of young offenders as a whole, is that the widespread problems she identifies among the population of young male offenders in that particular prison—which are presumably typical of the whole system—were not picked up and dealt with by the educational system. If offending behaviour is strongly associated with speech, language and communication difficulties, a far greater effort is needed to help youngsters with those difficulties while they are still at school. That might be more effective in saving them from a life of crime. Joined-up government surely requires a systematic attempt by the Prison Service, the DfES and other public authorities to identify the factors associated with crime and to deal with them before they lead to prison sentences.
Rather than spending hundreds of millions of pounds on building and operating new prisons, would not the Government do far better to put resources into pinpointing and removing the causes of criminal behaviour? The Government's crime reduction strategy concentrates on making it more difficult for people to commit offences by means of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships and initiatives such as Designing Out Crime. However, those initiatives, useful as they are, have not stopped the inexorable rise in crime because they do nothing to reduce the propensity to commit offences which is fuelled by the neglect of warning signs in the childhood of future criminals.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Lincoln
My Lords, like many noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for initiating this debate so early in the life of this new Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has already highlighted the need to sharpen those instruments needed to deal with those convicted and in 1104 our prisons. I do not want to repeat the points he has made. However, I wish to try to take the debate a little further into new ground.
In November 1999 the Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility published a collection of essays on the situation in Britain's prisons entitled, Prisons: A Study in Vulnerability. I want to highlight two particular groups in prison who are especially vulnerable; namely, the mentally ill and young people.
I believe that the 1999 National Framework for Mental Health now applies to prisoners as much as to anyone else. That means that local prisons have to be considered when the NHS draws up its local plans. That is surely a timely and welcome step forward, as is the news that by 2004 funding will allow 300 extra staff to work in prisons in mental health. In addition, no one with severe mental illness will be discharged from prison without a care plan and a named co-ordinator.
But severe problems remain which demand urgent attention. I believe that many existing prison doctors do not hold a GP qualification. Medical staff are often clinically isolated and the heavy pressure of work makes it difficult for them to continue with their professional development. Many health centres in prisons remain relatively poorly equipped. There are insufficient inpatient units and more attention is needed to provide secure adolescent mental health services.
Behind the need to improve healthcare facilities lie some important questions. First, is the prisoner to be regarded as a patient, with the same status as a patient in a GP surgery? What rights do they have? Can the Minister give us some information on that? Secondly, in the management of dangerous people with severe personality disorders it appears that the link between treatability and intervention is to go. Mental disorder no longer has a tight definition and we are, I fear, in danger occasionally of losing sight of the fact that justice is the first virtue of all social institutions. There are real concerns among many about a reduction in confidentiality with regard to a patient's condition under the Government's new proposals, as well as fears of a real shortage of psychiatrists to make the system work.
My third area of anxiety concerns the role of the voluntary sector in mental healthcare. Have the Government any plans to extend the proven value of the splendid support and counselling service provided by schemes like the Bourne Trust's First Night in Custody scheme in Holloway to other women's prisons? These are important questions particularly for any new team in the Home Office.
I turn to children. It is a sad fact that 86 per cent more children were held in prison on 30th June 1999 compared with June 1993. The vast majority of those held have committed non-violent offences. During the 1990s 15 children aged between 15 and 17 committed suicide while held in custody. Those statistics, sadly, are well known. But they are a shocking indictment of our society. Children should not be held in prison. It is a damaging environment and is ineffective in terms of reducing reoffending. Secure accommodation should 1105 be the only form of custody for young people and should be used only as a last resort in order to protect the public.
Last November the Children's Society, supported by Barnardo's launched its report, Tough Justice, arguing for community-based projects as an alternative to custody for children. Although the Youth Justice Board has begun to administer a range of new ways to administer justice without locking children up, and all of us welcome and pay tribute to that, the state of many young offender institutions, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, commented, continues to give cause for concern, in particular with regard to the educational opportunities that they provide.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has already urged the new Home Secretary, with his experience in education, to make that a major part of his time and tenure at the Home Office. Surely children of statutory school age should have the same entitlement to education as young people in the community. Surely those with special educational needs in prison should have the same access to teaching support and specialised resources as children in the community. Sadly, that is not the case at present; and there is still a very long way to go.
There are two kinds of vulnerability in our world: an enforced vulnerability which hurts, breaks and is at risk in the world of the prison. Alongside that there is the Christian hope: the example of Jesus Christ, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, mentioned, and the freely chosen vulnerability of love. This second kind, the vulnerability of love, involves taking risks. I hope and pray that our new Home Secretary and his ministerial team will be prepared to take some risks—risks which will break new ground and give real hope to those of us who care about our prisons.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for providing the opportunity to have this debate today. Perhaps at the outset I should declare an interest in that I am the chairman of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his kind remarks about the board's activities. I agree with him that we need to build on those approaches. That is part of my theme today.
I want to speak primarily about the position of young adult offenders aged 18 to 20, who represent about 12 per cent of the current prison population and who, in the view of many of us, represent the feeder system for many of the older prison population. However, before doing so perhaps I can give some context to my remarks by drawing on my experience of working on the youth justice changes before being chairman of the board and as chairman of the board. I do so in part because the Government have already said in their recent White Paper, Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead, that they want to build on the experience of the youth justice reforms to achieve similar 1106 improvements for all categories of offender. They reiterated that commitment more precisely in the Labour Party manifesto when they said:We will build on our youth justice reforms to improve the standard of custodial accommodation and offending programmes for 18 to 20 year-olds".I want to help my noble friend the Minister to implement that manifesto commitment by offering some thoughts, perhaps as a critical friend, on how to do that.
In the juvenile part of the young offender institutions the board has used its control of the budget, extra resources and a commissioning approach to achieve a significant improvement in regimes and time-out-of-cell in the past 12 months. Among many changes, a key change has been to require through contract prison officers to undergo approved training to work with younger offenders. Sir David Ramsbotham—I pay tribute to him for his excellent reports on the young offender institutions—is regularly contrasting the improvements achieved in a short space of time in the juvenile sector with the often poor conditions in the 18 to 20 parts of the young offender institutions. That contrast is stark in places like Feltham.
I was much encouraged by the remarks of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary about dealing with more of those on short custodial sentences through robust and effective community sentences with greater emphasis on reparation and restorative justice. The case for moving quickly to change our approach to custody for 18 to 20 year-olds is very strong. The peak ages of offending are 18 and 19. The Government estimate that 50 per cent of the 100,000 or so most persistent offenders thought to commit half the crime in this country are under 21. Under-21-year-olds have the highest reconviction rates. Yet we are using a policy of often very short custodial sentences, poor custodial regimes and relatively little community-based intervention to change offending behaviour on licence.
I acknowledge that the new National Probation Service has well-developed plans to start to change the position on community penalties but it remains to be seen whether those programmes will target the most persistent offenders in this age group and those currently serving short sentences. Certainly they will have little impact on most of those in young offender institutions where 15,500 18 to 20 year-olds were received into custody in 2000. That is nearly 12 per cent of the prison population.
Of the young adult offender population, over 70 per cent have no GCSEs and many have numeracy and literacy levels up to a decade below their chronological age. Nearly a third have been taken into care as a child and many have left that care system ill-equipped to cope with the modern world. Yet our policy response to this situation has been for the courts to place about half the 18 to 20 year-olds in young offender institutions for six months or less where they serve half or less of that sentence and few are offered any programmes tackling offending behaviour and receive little attention when they are released on licence.
1107 A large proportion of the establishments in which 18 to 20 year-olds are held simply do not have programmes tackling offending behaviour. Frankly, we are wasting our time placing many of those young men in custody with few programmes on offer for those short periods of time. We would do better to change the sentencing framework and deal with more of them in the community with the kind of vigorously supervised and constructive programmes such as the intensive supervision and surveillance programme that from next week onwards we are starting to provide for 16 to 17 year-olds. I hope that my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues will use the opportunity provided by the Halliday report on more flexible sentencing to replace short custodial sentences for 18 to 20 year-olds with constructive and rigorously enforced community sentences.
Even with that change, we would still urgently need a programme to revamp a smaller young offender institution sector for 18 to 20 year-olds. Within a year, the Youth Justice Board's contracting approach, together with extra resources, has already opened up a significant gap between the regimes for under-18s and those for over-18s in YOIs. Current minimum standards for the under-18s include 30 hours of purposeful activity a week. That is to be increased to include 15 hours of personal development activity. The 18 to 20 year-olds receive much less and have no prescribed standard. Time out of cell for juveniles is provided for contractually and is now more than 25 per cent greater than for the 18 to 20 year-olds. It is due to rise further this year and next.
Juveniles receive far more physical education and more education and training. This year and next year the education components will increase dramatically for juveniles as the Youth Justice Board's £40 million education and training investment programme kicks in. There is no such investment programme for 18 to 20 year-olds, so the contrast between the two parts of the YOI estate will become starker over the next year or so. I suspect that harsher criticism is likely to be forthcoming from the new Chief Inspector of Prisons. The growing gap between the two parts of the YOI estate will also make maintaining good order in that estate much more difficult.
To change that situation, the Treasury purse strings need to he loosened in the interests of humanity and effective public policy. I want to help my noble friend the Minister and the Home Secretary. If we could find £15 million to £20 million capital and about £40 million to £50 million a year in revenue, within two years we could deliver a step-like increase in the educational, vocational training, mental health and drug services and resettlement into accommodation and employment for 18 to 20 year-olds. We could do even better if the sentencing framework was adjusted so that more of those currently on short sentences were dealt with in the community.
I suspect that the Treasury might be a bit suspicious about paring with that money if it was simply to be handed over to the Prison Service. The Treasury has a history of dark suspicions about handing over money to the Prison Service. However, the contracting 1108 relationship that the board has developed with the Prison Service and the providers of custodial and other services improves the prospects of delivering given outputs and changes in management and staff cultures through better training.
I have talked at some length about the 18 to 20 year-olds because I believe that by adopting a commissioning approach, changing the sentencing framework, drawing on the lessons of the youth justice reforms and making a relatively modest investment in the grand scheme of things, we could transform the way in which we deal with that group of offenders well within the lifetime of a single Parliament, as we have done for youth justice. My board and I are ready to help the Government in any way that we can in this area.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Flather
My Lords, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, on initiating the debate. It is very timely, particularly as the Chief Inspector of Prisons is about to retire. It gives us an opportunity to commend him on his work in the past five years.
I used to say, somewhat flippantly, that I spent two years in Holloway and 24 years in Broadmoor. I am well aware that Broadmoor is a hospital, but when I first went there you would have been hard pressed to tell the difference between the hospital and a prison.
Things have changed. I resigned from Holloway—the only public appointment that I have ever resigned from—because I found the atmosphere and conditions intolerable. I have had an opportunity to visit many prisons and have been shocked at the level of filth and the behaviour of prisoners. Women prisoners are different. Sometimes they are much more difficult to handle than the men.
I do not know what has been done to the new prison building since I left, but it was an awkward building because there were bends in the corridors that made it impossible to see all the way down them. [t was difficult to know what was going on just round each bend. There were spaces where things could be thrown out of the windows and in some areas there was an accumulation of unspeakable things.
It is hardly surprising that Sir David Ramsbotham walked out. I have discovered that all the illustrations of the human body in Holloway are of men. That is bizarre for a women's prison.
Another prison that has had a deep impact on me, for a totally opposite reason, is Coldingley. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have visited it. It was built in the late 1960s as a factory prison with five workshops. The prisoners applied in the normal way to join a particular workshop and had a full working day. Some workshops were more popular than others and those who were good workers could transfer to their favourite workshop. The idea was that they would learn the work ethic—presumably that is still what it is called—and when they came out they would also have a trade. They could earn a little more money than they would normally expect.
1109 A laundry prison was built in Liverpool, but it was never put to use, because the unions felt that if prisons started providing the services that their members should be providing, there would be a loss to the union membership. The Government will have to take that on board at some stage. Sewing mailbags does not create self-respect in a human being. It is very important that time in prison should be spent building one's self-worth, self-respect and knowledge as far as possible.
The Tihar jail—an horrendous prison in India with 7,000 prisoners—was transformed under the direction of Kiran Bedi, a little lady who is now a commissioner of police in Delhi. There was nothing there for the prisoners when she became director. The prison was not even kept clean. She put the prisoners to work looking after their own needs. She found 500 teachers from within the prison. They may not have been qualified teachers, but they were literate—perhaps more than literate—and could teach. She set up classes and cleaned up the place by using the people who were in the prison to improve their own conditions. They started to take pride in the prison and worked to create better conditions for themselves. She also introduced yoga, meditation and vocational training so that most of the prisoners could go out with some simple trade that would help them not to reoffend.
If that can be done in India, surely we should not be so hide-bound in insisting that only qualified people can teach and that prisoners cannot do anything for themselves. That should be explored. It would not cost money and it would improve self-respect and self-reliance and foster a sense of responsibility among the prisoners for their own conditions.
Last but not least, I want to talk about Sir David Ramsbotham. I believe that his achievements have been quite remarkable because he has let no one off the hook. He has told us all that we—from the top to the bottom—have a responsibility towards the people whom we put in prison. I want to read the check-list that he mentioned at a recent lecture. He said:If prison worked, there would be work or education for every prisoner. If prison worked, we would be shutting prisons, not opening more. If prison worked, judges would not be seeing in the docks the same people over and over again. If prison worked, fewer mothers would be in prison, therefore fewer children would be in care. If prison worked, judges would not be imprisoning more people than any other European country except Turkey. If prison worked, we would be saving billions of pounds with fewer prisons, fewer care homes and fewer court cases".I consider that to be a wonderful check-list for the new Home Secretary. It might be of help if it were to be put in front of him and, in fact, all over the place in front of whoever works in the prison system.
Over the past five years, the prison population has increased by 15,000. Every prison has been asked to make a cut of 1 per cent in so-called "efficiency savings". What does "efficiency savings" mean? It certainly does not mean looking after prisoners. Sir David says that when he inspected Parkhurst Prison, he asked the governor what the aim of the prison was. The governor replied that it was to save 1110 £500,000. Sir David said that that was not what he meant. He asked, "Why should a prisoner be sent to Parkhurst, and for what treatment?" The governor told him that he was having to devote his energies to identifying the savings.
I believe that that is a terrible indictment. On the one hand, the size of the prison population is increasing; on the other hand, its finances are being reduced. The prison cannot possibly work in that manner. Such a regime does not work in one's own home. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
Sir David Ramsbotham has done us a very important service which, as yet, I do not believe has been mentioned by other noble Lords. He has taken on the Prison Officers' Association, which contains some very reactionary and racist elements. So far as I know, no one else has really taken on the association. I hope that Sir David's successor will continue to act in a forceful way with the POA. It is extremely important that the association is in step with the rest of the country.
Finally, the Woolf report has been mentioned. In 1991 the noble Lord, Lord Baker, produced a White Paper, Custody, Care and Justice. Perhaps it is time to revisit it. At that time, the paper was approved on an all-party basis but it was never taken further forward. I hope that the Minister will have a look at it and take it on board.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Baroness Linklater of Butterstone
My Lords, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for drawing our attention to the state of Her Majesty's prisons because, as we all know, they are the barometer of how civilised is our society. I commend him for a very fine speech. I also echo his tributes to Sir David Ramsbotham and Martin Narey—two very fine public servants. Perhaps I may add that I believe that that fine check-list was originally the work of Lady Ramsbotham.
The timing of this debate is also important. We are at the start of another term for this Government, with a new Home Secretary and an interest and concern in the subject in the country at large which is greater than at almost any time that I can remember. I believe that we are possibly entering a tide in the affairs of prisons which could lead on to better fortune. As they have been bound in such shallows and miseries for so long, I earnestly hope that that may be the case.
The fact is that our prisons are still absolutely unacceptably overcrowded and the rate of increase in the prison population remains unacceptably high. We continue to incarcerate people who represent no risk to the community, people who are mentally ill and should not be in prison at all, people whose lives and relationships are already disrupted and dysfunctional, and people whose level of education means that 70 per cent have reading ages, literacy and numeracy skills lower than those of an eight year-old—and all at the most fantastic cost.
The social cost to our communities is that 55 per cent of adult prisoners and over 80 per cent of young offenders will re-offend within two years. One of the 1111 most reliable indicators of a young person becoming involved in the criminal justice system is if he or she has a parent with experience of prison. Every year at least 100,000 children are separated from an imprisoned father and 8,000 children from an imprisoned mother.
I fear that such facts are not really taken in by politicians and sentencers because their perceptions remain that the way to protect the public effectively is to lock people up. After all, people cannot commit crimes while they are behind bars—they are "incapacitated". All other arguments pale into insignificance, including the cost and the failure to achieve the desired result. But politicians and sentencers must understand that, in protecting the public by preventing crime, which is the aim of the criminal justice system, more humane, much more effective and cheaper strategies exist for dealing with all but a small minority from whom the public really must be protected physically.
Three years ago in this place, the noble Lord, Lord Allen, called for a professional and properly thought-out campaign to try to get the facts better understood and some of the misapprehensions removed. I echo that call again today. Many years ago, I organised a "Prison Week" for the Prison Reform Trust at Winchester prison. It was dramatically eye-opening to bring magistrates and prison officers together to discuss common problems; to bring in schoolchildren to play basketball with young offenders; and to have a "brains trust" within the prison involving prisoners, prison staff, professionals and public together.
There is no substitute for exposure to and involvement in the realities of prison and its alternatives. I know how much the prison services welcome a proper interest in their work. The impossible scale of the task demanded of them might just begin to be properly understood if more sentencers and politicians, as well as the public, became aware of those realities. What we see on TV, read in the papers or hear as sound bites from the politicians are a distorting substitute. I suggest that routine, written feedback should be made available to judges, especially in relation to non-custodial sentences. Then they would see that the outcome of their decisions included successes and not merely failures who return to court. A continuity of involvement would be welcome, as indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, told me today.
I also want to ask the Government to take very seriously the recommendation in the Halliday review that review courts should be used much more generally. The review process not only offers the offender an incentive to do better but, very importantly, gives the sentencers a far clearer idea of how their decisions are working out.
I want to focus briefly on two groups which have never ceased to give me the greatest concern—women and children. Seventeen prisons now house the current population of some 3,700 women. Some 2,775 juveniles aged between 15 and 17 are in prison, and another 128 young children aged between 12 and 15 in detention training centres. This latter group I have 1112 referred to several times in your Lordships' House, and I will continue to do so because I regard it as unacceptable that we are placing these most needy and dysfunctional young children in such regimes.
I have visited Medway, which is the first of these DTCs. Smart and well-appointed buildings contained the all too familiar cells where these "trainees" are locked up at night beside a board illustrating a points system in which they could earn the privilege of an extra cuddly toy. That practice, which is the result of a policy devised by the previous government but enacted by this Government, is entirely wrong for such young children. Those groups are dealt with quite separately within the prison system, but I urge the Government to start to look at them together. They share many key characteristics, and a common philosophy and approach would help to give greater focus and consistency to meeting their—and our—needs.
There is now a women's policy group, which brings consistency to the policy and planning for women and. as we know, the Youth Justice Board deals separately with children. Last year, the Wedderburn report recommended a national women's justice board, which would in many respects parallel the Youth Justice Board. Might the Government consider that? Some common elements include the fact that both groups are entering the prison system at a faster rate than any other group. The figure for women increased by 145 per cent between 1993 and 2001— they are the fastest growing part of the entire prison population and a higher proportion are now going into prison for longer—and the figure for juveniles more than doubled during the same period. Since last December the DTC population of 12 to 15 year-olds has risen from 93 to 128. Are the DTCs now overcrowded?
Those are particularly vulnerable groups, in relation to which the family is of critical importance both for those who are inside and for those who are left behind. In that rupturing of families, everyone is damaged. Many are placed miles from home and I know of the stress and toll of sustaining visits from when I started the first visitors' centre at Pentonville more than 20 years ago. They also have particularly high levels of personal, emotional and psychological need. Mental health problems are prevalent and drug abuse is particularly worrying.
I know that prison is often entirely inappropriate—that is not to deny that many will need serious community penalties, and local authority secure accommodation will be necessary for many persistent young offenders. However, the overwhelming conclusion is that far from women and children coming first in the priorities of humane, relevant and appropriate treatment, the reverse, bizarrely, is the case. What has got into our sentencers and policy-makers that we behave in a way that makes us look Dickensian in comparison with the rest of Europe? And why is it that the rest of us comply?
Ten years ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf—the great Lord Woolf—recommended the reorganisation of the prison estate into community clusters of prisons. We must again look seriously at 1113 that, although the size of the prison population almost forbids it. Last week the new Home Secretary, recognising that the current system is not working, encouragingly opened the door to a greater concentration on reparation, the reduction of crime and rehabilitation.
The weight of evidence is strongly in favour of radical shifts in thinking for the groups that I have mentioned in particular and for the estate in general. It is a huge but necessary task if the public are going to be truly protected by reducing crime. I sense that perhaps—just perhaps—the Home Secretary might start to move in that direction. Otherwise—to finish my quote from "Julius Caesar"—I fear that if we do not take the current when it serves, we lose our venture.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, overcrowding, minimal purposeful activity, community prisons that are rarely available, the absence of stability and leadership within prisons and the lack of priority given to education were all matters that I knew would be competently dealt with by the distinguished noble Lords who have already spoken and that there was therefore no need for me to weary anyone with repetition.
Accordingly, I had no intention of taking part in this debate until I was told that there was a report by Mr Halliday that the Home Secretary and the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House had very much taken to heart. I managed to get a copy of it yesterday. It was rather like receiving a return brief at the Bar when one already had a busy calendar. I managed to read a fair amount of the report. It stated, without saying that this would necessarily be the case, that the additional annual public expenditure for its proposals could be between £440 million and £540 million; that,the prison population could increase by between 3,000 and 6,000";and that,the probation service would be working at any one time with 80,000 more offenders".I thought that that material was very relevant to our debate.
I read further in this extensive report, which makes some good points. It stated that the,onus is on those who propose change to show that it would be worthwhile. That is especially so after a decade that has seen more change in this field than any other in living memory. Many contributors to the review have expressed frustration over apparently incessant and disconnected changes, and pessimism about the likelihood that further change would be beneficial".That was very much my reaction as I read a fair amount of this material.
Noble Lords know that a sentencing panel has very recently been set up in order to assist the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) with guidelines. I have been told that, although it has only just started operating, it is working very well. There have been 1114 recent proposals in regard to burglary and in regard to receiving. I should have hoped therefore that the system, which is working well, would be left to go on working as it is doing now; it has been so organised only for a matter of months. Not a bit of it. There is a proposal that is rather difficult to understand unless one assumes that there is a remarkable degree of enthusiasm for change for change's sake. I quote from paragraph 42 under the heading, "Executive Summary: Recommendations":New independent machinery should be established for this purpose [that is, guidelines] either using the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) in a new capacity, or establishing a new body for the purpose. In either case, the remit of the Sentencing Advisory Panel should be widened to enable it to provide more general advice on sentencing issues, including draft guidelines".I suspect those proposals because I think that they are designed for the executive to play a greater part in the guidelines, whereas up till now—leaving aside the Sentencing Advisory Panel—it is the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) that has provided many guideline judgments, none of which I have known to be criticised in this House or elsewhere. The guidelines are part of the judicial discretion. It seems to be a government tendency to try to restrict judicial discretion.
The other matter to which I wanted particularly to refer relates to the persistent offender. That created quite a measure of excitement in the report because figures and statistics show that if a person is a persistent offender, when he comes back for the next sentence, the next sentence does not go up by much—it may not go up at all. That is looked upon as being quite wrong, quite contrary to sentencing purposes and guidelines. The suggestion is that every time the persistent offender comes back, his sentence should be ratcheted up significantly. So we may reach the situation where a person is in prison for petty burglary, with a history of having done it many times, but who is serving a sentence equivalent to that imposed upon a bank robber.
I was delighted to see that, among the recent papers provided to us by the Howard League for Penal Reform, which sets out some of the disturbing statistics, in its final observation under "Sentencing", it says,In sentencing persistent offenders, previous convictions should be taken into account, but not in the sense that repeat offending leads automatically to a more punitive response. We do need to attempt different and possibly more intensive interventions with those people who have developed a pattern of offending".This report does not tell your Lordships anything about the history which lies behind the treatment of the habitual offender. It goes back 100 years. In 1908 the Prevention of Crime Act provided preventive detention for habitual offenders. There were two sentences: one the ordinary sentence, if there had not been this record; and the second was the additional sentence for the habitual activity. That produced very long sentences. The judiciary considered that it was not a fair way of imposing punishment.
In 1948 the Criminal Justice Act provided preventive detention and, for the young, corrective training, which was the precursor of borstal. But in 1115 1967 preventive detention was abolished and extended sentences were provided in lieu, which was really a change in nomenclature. Again, those added sentences were not resorted to and fell largely into disuse.
In 1991 preventive detention was abolished. That Act stressed the importance of not over-emphasising a person's past record. The 1991 Act is a useful Act on which to reflect. It imposed a straightjacket on the judiciary. It made the judge ignore all previous convictions except one; all outstanding offences except one; and the response to previous detention or imprisonment. I was among others who said that it could not possibly work; that it would produce the most ridiculous consequences. Inside two or three months there was a move to change the situation by the abolition of Section 29, and that in fact occurred.
I should like to raise one question in connection with the Halliday report; namely, what about the suspended sentence? I always thought it was quite wrong that one had to find extraordinary circumstances before one could justify suspended sentences. I always felt that they were extremely useful if they were coupled with a financial penalty.
One of the first criminal cases with which I had to deal was on Assize in Wales, in Cardiff. I was sitting with Tasker Watkins QC, so I knew that I could obtain fairly good advice as to whether the sentence I imposed was a sound one. Jones the Milk, as I think he was called, had a cunning device so that when the Milk Marketing Board delivered 1,000 gallons of milk, there was a run-off from the tank and it only registered 800, so he got 200 gallons gratis every time. He was eventually charged with three offences and pleaded guilty. Of course he was the most prominent member of the church, the choir and everything that was important locally.
I gave him three suspended sentences of 18 months and fined him £750 on each of the three counts. I told Tasker, when I came back at teatime, what I had done and asked him his view: "God man!", he said, "He would rather have gone to gaol any time".
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, I am tempted to start by saying, "Follow that"!
This is a most important subject and the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for securing the debate today. Like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who spoke much earlier, I agreed with every word of the introduction of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd.
It is particularly appropriate that we should be discussing conditions in our prisons so early in the new Parliament, given the recent pronouncements about sentencing policy and the appointment of a new Home Secretary. One undoubted consequence will be to put the prisons under greater pressure over the next few years, both in terms of numbers of inmates and the expectations of what they can deliver. As we debate prison conditions, I hope that there will be general agreement in the House that prisons have to be well run, decent, safe, accountable and legitimate. Their legitimacy is particularly important because in our 1116 society prisons are the ultimate expression of the power of the state over the individual. They also say a great deal about what sort of country this is.
In this House we are regularly reminded by noble Lords on all sides that the conditions in many of our prisons remain wholly unacceptable and the source of shame for any civilised country. In the past two years the Chief Inspector of Prisons —I join others in paying tribute to him for the wonderful work that he has done—has produced damning reports on a record number of establishments: Feltham, Brixton, Birmingham, Wandsworth, Wormwood Scrubs, Stoke Heath, Portland, Exeter and Brinsford. The list appears to go on and on.
It is true that there have been some improvements. We have seen the virtual end of slopping-out and three people sharing a cell. I am told that the awful stench of urine and stale food, which was all-pervasive in most prisons, is less noticeable today. However, there are still inner city prisons that keep people locked in their cells for 23 hours a day. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke of that in relation to Winchester gaol and there are many others. Eleven thousand prisons are held two to a cell in cells designed for one person.
Therefore, there is little surprise that over the past decade more than 600 prisoners have committed suicide. The conditions for remand prisoners can be particularly grim. Often they are held in the most appalling conditions for weeks or months, while awaiting trial. In 1998, 55 people took their own lives while on remand. None of that is acceptable. With such conditions it is not surprising that the rate of re-offending is so high, with 56 per cent of prisoners reconvicted within two years of release. In the case of young prisoners, between 85 and 90 per cent will re-offend when released and almost half of them will re-offend so seriously that they will be sent back to prison.
Those statistics are shocking and they call into question the effectiveness of the prison system. At the very least the juvenile estate should be separated from the Prison Service and placed under the control of the Youth Justice Board, led so ably by my noble friend Lord Warner.
The other point to be borne in mind is that some of those serving prison sentences are not a danger to society. They may, for example, have been imprisoned for non-payment of fines; others may be guilty of minor theft. We must not dismiss crimes of that sort as of no consequence, but we should try to be more understanding as to why, especially in relation to financial matters, such offences are being committed. Surely, there are more appropriate ways in which to sentence those offenders than to put them in prison. It is a problem that affects women more harshly than men, as they are more likely to be imprisoned for nonpayment of fines than are men.
The Prison Service is not an agency of punishment. The courts do that. The content of prison regimes should not be made deliberately humiliating and degrading as a means of reinforcing the punitive effect of the sentence. Denial of freedom is, in itself, a severe 1117 punishment, as is the effect that a prison record has upon the rest of a person's life. The removal of fathers—and even more mothers—from their families is likely to increase the problems for their children. We need to consider ways in which we can ensure that parents are able, where appropriate, to maintain good contact with their children, at least to give an example of how not to lead their lives.
The commitment made by the Government to the rest of us of fairness, opportunity, inclusiveness and citizenship should also apply to offenders, so that they are treated as citizens, with citizens' rights and responsibilities. In my view, we shall have to face the issue of whether prisoners should be given the right to vote. I believe that the Human Rights Act will force that upon us even if we do not choose to do so.
One unfortunate consequence of the "prison works" philosophy is that if rehabilitation succeeds in preventing re-offending and in reforming the characters of offenders, judges and magistrates will take the view that the more people whom they send to gaol, the more they will benefit from the experience. What is more, they may as well increase the length of the sentences as well, because there is no point in sending people to prison unless they stay long enough to gain some benefit. Unless something can be done to improve the offender's family and social environment outside prison, the expectations of the "prison works" philosophy are likely to remain unrealistic and the rates of re-offending will stay depressingly high. One will then get into a thoroughly negative debate that goes along the lines of having to keep people in prison for longer and longer because that is the only place where they will not re-offend in ways that affect the population as a whole. That is just investing in failure.
Already we are seeing the consequences of that approach in terms of the number of people in prison. It is not a matter of pride that the prison population reached 67,000 by the end of June, nor that we have more people in prison as a proportion of the population than any other country in Western Europe except Portugal. We need to stabilise the prison population at a level that matches the capacity of the system to fulfil the promises being made as part of the "prison works" philosophy.
Before we pass more laws on sentencing, it is essential, as the Government intend, that they and the judiciary come to an understanding on the purpose and principles, on how large the prison population should be and on where they are to be located. There also has to be an agreement about release procedures, because until one knows how many people one can let out, one will not know how many to admit.
Some years ago we stopped building roads on the "predict and provide" principle, and that approach should not be the guiding star for the prison programme either. We need to re-examine the relationship between prisons, their local communities and other services. I doubt whether it is sensible to maintain a national, centrally-directed, monolithic service that has been in existence more or less unchanged since 1877—the year when the national 1118 system was first established. Not many commercial organisations in the private sector would try to preserve such an inflexible structure.
Should we not look at ways to devolve decision-making to a more local level, so that local communities feel that they have some "ownership" of these large establishments in their area that employ a considerable number of the local workforce? If the prison staff were made to feel that they were worthwhile members of the local community, proud of doing an important job in the public service, would that not do wonders for their self-respect, rather than—as all too often happens—feeling that they have to disguise their occupation and not tell people what they do for a living?
Recently, there have been some hopeful developments. The development of training and rehabilitation courses within prisons, particularly for drug abuse and sex offenders, is seen as successful in terms of making prisoners more prepared for life outside and preventing re-offending. Also welcome is the Government's "custody to work" programme which is aimed at doubling the proportion of prisoners going directly into jobs on release, like the effort to increase by 50 per cent the number of national qualifications that prisoners achieve while inside.
Many noble Lords have referred to John Halliday's review of sentencing, "Making Punishments Work", which was published last week. On Thursday, the new Home Secretary spoke at the inaugural conference of the National Probation Service and gave a clear indication that he was reluctant to preside over a continuing increase in the prison population. In talking about the sentencing regime he said that it,is not achieving what we want. Over half of those sentenced to either custodial or community sentences are back in court being sentenced again within two years. Sentencing is not doing much to discourage them".Mr Blunkett also spoke approvingly of Halliday's criticism of short custodial sentences of less than 12 months and said that,they provide little or no opportunity to change the behaviour and problems which put offenders there in the first place.And they can have a long term adverse effect on family cohesion, on employment and on training prospects—all of which are key to the rehabilitation of offenders".He is quite right, but he will have to look at what appears to be a contradiction in the Halliday report between the dismissal of short prison sentences and the endorsement of almost automatic imprisonment as a sanction for a breach of conditions attached to a sentence.
Where Halliday is right is in emphasising the importance of deciding well before any new framework is implemented the consequences for expenditure, the prison population and the workloads of services. We should keep in front of our minds the fact that for the cost of one new prison we could build 60 primary schools or two district hospitals.
Decisions on the necessary sentencing guidelines are an important part of the process and I am certain that we shall need to move away from mandatory sentences. I also hope that politicians will resist the temptation to try to second guess the professional 1119 opinions of experts such as psychiatrists and judges on the length of sentences and the timing of release or parole.
Across the public service as a whole, the past 20 years have been a period in which professional judgment, and the wisdom and experience which go with that, have been dismissed as the expression of self-seeking provider interest. We are now seeing the consequences in the demoralisation of many public services and a decline in professional standards and relationships. The Government's new concentration on public service in this Parliament is particularly welcome, but we have a great deal of ground to pull back.
I hope that the period of consultation which will follow the Halliday report, and which was promised by the Home Secretary, will allow that wisdom and experience to be heard and respected so that there can again be a proper professional contribution to the national debate.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord Chadlington
My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Hurd for initiating this very important debate. I was inspired by his opening remarks. As my noble friend knows, I have spent much of my time working in prisons, supporting the Howard League for Penal Reform, and through my chairmanship of Action on Addiction I have made a special study of the problems of alcohol abuse and drug taking, consequential anti-social behaviour and the issues relating to drug use immediately prior to and during prison sentences.
Whenever we debate the prison services either in this House or in another place, so we go through the subjects one by one, exchanging statistics, offering solutions and defending our records. Whenever we debate, we come back time and again to resources, usually financial. We cannot reform because we do not have the money.
One of the great phrases of the 1997 socialist administration was, "Tough on crime: tough on the causes of crime". I wish to address one such "cause"—and I believe that it is the prime cause—of crime in this country. And with it I wish to urge a re-allocation of resources to reduce the prison population and improve radically the quality of our prisons. I speak, of course, of the issue of drugs and drug use.
Perhaps I may share with your Lordships some of the facts. The Governor of Bullingdon, speaking on Radio 4 on Monday evening, said:We know that if drugs were taken out of the system, out of the equation, that Bullingdon would be half empty. So, if we can do something to cut down on drug use we can do something to cut down on the amount of inmates that actually come into places like Bullingdon".Two weeks ago I was visiting in Brixton prison and was told that 40 per cent of all incoming remand prisoners had taken some form of illicit drug in the previous 72 hours. In 1998, the Cambridge Institute of Criminology showed that 61 per cent of all those 1120 arrested had traces of drugs in their system; 46 per cent of those people had cannabis; 18 per cent heroin; and 10 per cent crack cocaine.
The National Treatment Outcome Research Study (NTORS) recently showed that no fewer than 70,000 crimes were committed by 655 drug users, mainly heroin addicts, in the three months pre-treatment. A survey conducted over the past year among those in police custody confirmed the prevalence of class A drugs with 57 per cent admitting to taking heroin in the previous month, 52 per cent to taking crack cocaine and 13 per cent to taking cocaine.
If people take drugs and commit a crime, those people appear to believe that the two actions are causally connected. Home Office research shows that actually 46 per cent of arrestees who had taken drugs in the past 12 months believed that their drug use and crime were related. Drugs and crime are no respecter of sexes. Forty-two per cent of women under sentence are drug dependent. Women offenders are more likely to be opiate and crack cocaine users than men. Twenty-one per cent of women on remand, as opposed to 11 per cent of men, report using opiates. Thirteen per cent of women, as opposed to 7 per cent of men, use crack daily or almost daily. Those drugs are most strongly linked to offending.
As we all know, particularly those of us who regularly visit prison, drug taking does not stop outside prison; it goes on inside as well. The ONS recently completed a survey which showed that more than 33 per cent of men on remand and nearly half of sentenced men reported using drugs during their prison sentence. Although suicide levels in prison are at best stabilising, they rose 34 per cent between 1997 and 1999. It would appear that drug users were over represented in that appalling statistic.
If one goes into a prison as a drug user, there is still plenty of opportunity to continue one's habit. There is also a high rate of needle sharing, leading to risks of hepatitis C and HIV. And even if one does not go into prison as a drug user, there is at least the possibility that one will, together with learning new forms of criminal behaviour, learn to take drugs while inside.
However, I must pay generous tribute to the Government for recognising that part of the drug problem in prisons by increasing the funding for drug treatment from less than £7 million in 1997–98 to more than three times that at nearly £24 million last year. I still believe that it is too little but it is an enormous step forward.
Many people have paid tribute to Sir David Ramsbotham and I want to echo that. On Monday evening a retiring chief inspector appeared on a Radio 4 programme mentioned creating "healthy prisons" where both staff and inmates feel safe. I believe that that is a brilliant choice of words. Healthy prisons are institutions which enable those who have done wrong to be punished, to show remorse and to reform. Healthy prisons are institutions where there is a degree of safety and care for one's well-being and one's physical and mental health. I believe in the need for a healthy prison system.
1121 If drug taking is indeed the cause of so much crime, surely this is the point for government action. Reduce the number of criminals by attacking the distribution and use of drugs and the resources which we have can be rebalanced and reallocated to improve and upgrade the prison system. If the Government need any persuasion, we should remember that reforming the prison system has little electoral appeal but the fear which unites all parents is that their sons or daughters will turn to drugs and perhaps to crime. It can win the minds and hearts of everyone in the land.
We know that research has benefited the treatment of drug users, the education of the young and our understanding of drugs and drug-related problems. For example, research has shown that for every £1 spent on treatment £3 is saved by society in hospital admissions, social security costs and prison places. At the moment, in the United Kingdom about 75 per cent of the drugs budget is spent on law enforcement and the prevention of drug trafficking, yet HM Customs and Excise estimates that it intercepts only 5 to 10 per cent of the drugs that come into the country.
We live in a world where it is believed to be harder and harder to find causes which unite us and for which all society can fight, yet I believe that this issue stares us in the face. The state of our society, the safety of our streets, the reforming of our prison system and many other social changes could all be affected for the better if the Government made this issue their own. The horrifying fact is that it is still cheaper to buy enough good quality heroine for an evening's use than a round of drinks.
I was greatly encouraged when I read the headlines in this evening's Evening Standard. As I studied the story underneath I realised that it did not reflect such wholehearted support by the Government for addressing the problem as I had thought initially. I should like the Minister to expand on the story as to the way that drugs and crime are related.
I finish on a personal note. My wife and I do our best to be good parents to four children aged between 10 and 17. I hope and pray that none of my children ever become addicts or criminals, although the two appear to be quite closely allied. A couple of weekends ago I asked my 17 year-old daughter, after she and a group of friends had been to a party, whether there had been drugs available that evening. She replied that there were drugs at every party she ever attended; and one of her friends told me that the simple choice was whether they tried them.
Criminal behaviour occurs in every stratum of our society. Certainly, let us do all that we can to prevent the use of drugs inside prison by spending money to help addicts there. But prisons are not intended to be, nor should they be, drug rehabilitation centres. To control drug use outside prison walls will not only save many a young person from a life of crime but release resources to upgrade our prisons so that they fulfil the reforming role which is our responsibility and duty and is vital to a healthy society.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for tabling this debate this afternoon. I declare an interest as a patron of Voice for the Child in Care which provides advocacy services for young people within the secure estate. I put down my name for this debate with some hesitation as I visited a young offender institution for the first time only last December and have made one repeat visit to it since. However, I should like to express some concerns.
As to prison conditions, surely it is important to reduce the number of prisoners, thereby decreasing the stress on the prison system. There is a well-documented connection between weak family structures and later offending behaviour. I congratulate the Government, therefore, on taking so many important steps since 1997 to support families and children. Only yesterday I received a letter from the National Family and Parenting Institute which described its audit of services for parents and families in England and Wales which is soon to be published. I have experienced at first hand one of the many services offered and noted the comfort that parents receive. At the meeting a single parent has the opportunity to share with others her experience in looking after children and can escape isolation for a time.
One parent with two sets of twins met peers who recognised the immense challenge that she faced. She had no English but found an interpreter who could help her communicate with other parents, which meant that she felt less isolated. This is good for the wellbeing of parents and children. That should not be regarded as a means of reducing offending by children in the long term, but I believe that that is a happy byproduct of this kind of assistance and support. Recently, the Government introduced the Care Standards Act and the Children (Leaving Care) Act. Those measures improve conditions for children in care and make them less likely to offend and enter the prison system.
On my recent visit one problem which stood out was that of retention and recruitment of staff. Before I discuss that matter I should like to follow up the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln relating to mental health issues within such institutions. On my second visit to the YOI I particularly wanted to see the mental health provision. Having spoken to a member of staff, I was heartened to hear that there had been a great reduction in the number of cases of self-harm since 1999 when the NHS took over responsibility for the provision of mental health services.
In the same radio programme to which the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, referred, Sir David Ramsbotham said that in one year there had been five different governors of the establishment that I visited. In the same institution no senior staff member had more than two years' experience in post. That is a merry-go-round which is travelling at 100 miles per hour. In the past staff who have been recruited from the north find their families far away. One prison 1123 officer may have a depressed wife and, as a consequence, may be concerned about the wellbeing of his children. If his family is far away he suffers because he is unable to interact with it and his work is affected.
The cost of housing in the South East can put £100,000 on a mortgage, which also drives prison officers away from the area. Therefore, a governor may spend most of his time training new staff and very little developing established staff. It is also the case that the bad reputation of some institutions prevents good candidates from being recruited and demoralises the workforce that is already in place. The senior management and staff of prisons are in a very difficult position, and it is hard to see what they can do. Sir David Ramsbotham pointed out that at Swinfen Hall the governor had been in place for five or six years, and that that institution was an example of the very best practice in the treatment of inmates. At Huntercombe the governor has also been in place for five or six years. Continuity of prison governorship and all staff within an institution is key to a healthy establishment.
Can the Minister tell the House how many vacant prison officer posts there are in young offender institutions in the south east of England? What plans do the Government have to remedy any shortfall? How are the problems of recruitment and retention being addressed?
The new remand criteria in the recent Criminal Justice and Courts Services Act has increased the number of under-18s in custody by 2,000 a year. So that will put an additional strain on the South East in particular. The Minister may wish to correct me, but I believe that the South East has 30 per cent of the demand for prison places but is in a position to provide only 12 per cent of those places. I observe that under the new remand criteria a child may be remanded in custody for the theft of a Mars bar. As a governor remarked to me, he thought that we were trying to move away from imprisonment for petty offences.
Given that, as Sir David Ramsbotham pointed out, 60 per cent of young offenders in young offender institutions have been in care, would it not be sensible to consider similar criteria for staff in young offender institutions, in the juvenile estate, to those which staff have in children's homes? Should there not be a similar aim of having at least 80 per cent of prison officers working with that particular group with a national vocational qualification, an NVQ of Level 3 in child and young people's development or some similar qualification? The noble Lord, Lord Warner, remarked on the training that has been introduced which lasts for six or seven days. That is a very welcome innovation, but I wonder whether more could be done.
Working with young people and children can be immensely stimulating. Working with troubled children can be most challenging. But one needs to feel supported. One needs a manager to whom one can turn. One needs one's team mates for support and to think constantly about what one is doing. Some managers of children's homes whom I have met began with no qualifications and within a few years achieved 1124 a master's degree. If one wishes to study the human condition, working with young people and children is a very good opportunity to do so. Therefore, I beg the Government to use everything in their power to support the staff working with vulnerable young people and children in custody and to make the role of the prison officer attractive, thus attracting the best people.
I applaud the measures that the Government are taking to support families. I am concerned about staff recruitment and retention in the South East and I ask the Minister for some reassurance on that matter. I ask the Government again whether they can make the role of prison officers for under-21s more interesting.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, my noble friend has done a great service to the House and to the country in bringing this subject to your Lordships' notice in the glare of publicity and at the moment when we have a fresh mind in the shape of a new Home Secretary to address the problem before us.
I had a fresh mind when I first addressed the problem nearly 20 years ago. It was in April 1982 that the noble—I almost said "and gallant" although he is no soldier—Earl, Lord Longford, within a fortnight of my arrival at the Home Office demanded a full report on the state of the Prison Service. I had a very sharp learning curve, as your Lordships can imagine.
It is very appropriate that this building is almost opposite the London Eye. That grinds inexorably round and the same little coaches come around in eternity. This debate has ground round innumerable times since then, and was grinding around for many years before that. It may be worth reminding any of your Lordships who might have forgotten, but more particularly those who do not know, what I discovered in my learning curve. It was that in the 40 years from 1918 to 1958 not one brick had been put upon another in any secure adult accommodation in the Prison Service, and that there had been a doubling in the prison population. The necessary response was that from 1959 to 1981 over 13,000 places were added, bringing the total accommodation from 25,000 places to 38,860. That seemed a great many in those days. In that debate I said:The effect was, however, that of running very fast in order to stand still because, in the same period, the population rose from 26,000 to 44,000. The net result, therefore, was an increase in the shortfall of accommodation from 1,500 to 5,600".Overcrowding is not a new subject.
At that moment of crisis I actually had a board in my office on which we had the total feasible—not the legal—capacity of the system to contain bodies. We were sometimes into double and, on two occasions, into single figures when there was going to be nowhere else to put them, not even in police cells. We then instituted under Lord Whitelaw what was then the biggest and most expensive prison building programme in the 20th century. He was shortly followed by my noble friend Lord Brittan who realised that this was not enough and made it an even bigger 1125 programme. Since 1979, 34 new prisons have been built, providing over 17,000 new places, and we are still heavily overcrowded. Whatever the answer to the problem is, it is not building prisons: we have been doing that since anyone can remember.
Supervised release may seem a very new idea, but in 1982 we—the Government of which at the time I was a member—rejected a proposal for supervised release. In consultation on the proposal that had been first canvassed in the review of parole the previous year, the response that the Government quite properly received from sentencers indicated clearly that this rigidity would mean that they would be bound to increase the overall length of sentences, at least in cases where protection of the public was their objective.
The Halliday report overcomes that difficulty by involving the courts—the sentencers—in the review of the sentence at the pre-release stage and also in actually having the customers back if they do not meet their requirements. I regard that as hopeful. I was encouraged—unexpectedly in view of our relative political positions—by what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, had to say on that whole spectrum of ideas.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, made our flesh creep rather by the possible cost—the noble and learned Lord is not here to correct me if I have the matter wrong, which is a great relief—of the executive overview of the Halliday report which the noble and learned Lord has had slightly longer to consider than I. It is worth mentioning that paragraph 0.25 makes it clear that the figures he quoted were the worst case figures and that there are best case figures which actually result in a reduction in both the cost and the numbers in prison. It depends not on the system but how one uses it.
All that adds up to saying that neither building prisons nor adjusting custodial sentences of themselves will result in any significant reduction in criminality or in the population of the prisons or in the cost of managing them. We have to look elsewhere. The logic is so painfully obvious that it almost embarrasses me to repeat what I have said in every debate of this nature for the past 20 years when I have been predisposed to do so. That is that it is far more sensible to get the children before they become criminals than to spend enormous resources in catching 3 per cent of those who offend and then committing a small proportion to a custodial sentence which almost guarantees that they will go back and do it again. Someone coming from elsewhere in the universe would regard that as a policy of lunacy, yet we have been pursuing it, as though hypnotised, for generation after generation.
Surely it must be right to see what is wrong with our children and what is wrong with their circumstances that results in their becoming criminals. I declare an interest as the president of the DIVERT Trust, whose objective is so to do. But it is only one of many organisations in the voluntary sector which I encourage the Home Secretary to look to and exploit and, I may say, to fund so that they can do their work better in the pursuit of this end.
1126 What do the children lack? I have met a good many of them in the time I have been interested in juvenile offending. The most fundamental, the most difficult to provide and the least popular to mention is quite simply love. As they grow older, one has to give it a name less likely to be branded soft or sloppy, so one calls it care. The effect on a juvenile potential offender or actual offender on for the first time being convinced that a confident, responsible adult actually cares what happens to him or her and is prepared to help him or her see that what happens is not a disaster but the beginning of a fulfilled personality is electric. I happened quite by chance, as an ignorant practitioner in a very large comprehensive school in a slum clearance estate, on one occasion to be such an adult and to witness to my astonishment the change in the child that happened before my very eyes. So the first thing we have to do is to prepare some kind of caring, sheltering support for children who do not have it. We have to identify them.
For the purposes of today's debate, since the sector we are looking at are those who are heading inexorably to custody or at least to crime, we look for the certain pre-indications of criminality. One of the best indicators of that is exclusion from school. Children who are excluded from school are not all naturally rebellious against the process of education. They are rebellious against repeated failure and diminution of their stature and self respect, which is what happens to too many of them when they begin to fail in our schools. This is not a debate on education and so I shall not say how that could be avoided, though I did so at some length in a report to the Government some years ago. But once one has identified children like that, one can provide them with an adult, caring input to their lives—nine times out of 10 that is what is missing—to help them straighten out.
The intelligent thing to do—I can say it with modesty because it was introduced by the chief executive at the time, Angela Sarkis, and not myself—is to identify the children who are at risk of exclusion before they are excluded so that they can be supported in school and kept there. That saves an enormous amount of money to the taxpayer, an enormous amount of grief to them, an enormous amount of damage to their surroundings and a great deal of misery to their community. It is a very simple principle that I ask the new Home Secretary to take on board. He is a humane man and I believe that he will be able to do it. I hope he does it before he, like many of us, becomes almost resigned to the endless repetition of the same arguments against the obvious truth.
I have only one other small and almost unrelated point to raise. It is a reprise really—perhaps an unexpected one. A few weeks ago we had a debate on a prison called Blantyre House, which had a successful and humane system for its inmates. It was forward-looking and it was having a beneficial effect on recidivism rates. It was wrecked. It was thuggishly wrecked by an intrusion from a different part of the Prison Service. That intrusion has never been explained and has never been apologised for. The person or perhaps persons responsible for it have never 1127 been exposed and have never been brought to book. If the Home Secretary wishes to establish himself as the friend of justice and liberty within the Prison Service as well as outside it, I hope that he will put that right. It will also be a happy note for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. I add to the chorus of praise, which doubtless brings a blush to his cheeks but which is richly deserved, for bringing the idea of justice and liberty within the Prison Service into the public domain to an extent which means that no government, least of all the present one, can ignore it.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, and, to be fair, the Conservative Opposition, for making time available for this debate. Nothing could be more important. Everyone who has spoken, and, I suspect, everyone in the House, might agree that the Prison Service is a Cinderella service. It is largely ignored by the public; it is largely demoralised; it is on the defensive; and it is habitually denigrated. If I, like others, spend time talking of its shortcomings, that is not in any spirit of denigration but simply because that seems the most purposeful thing to do.
Perhaps I may be allowed a brief personal anecdote. I started my career in the law trogging round the solicitors of the land and interviewing clients of the firm. In 1961 I found myself imprisoned in Shiraz in Iran—on bail, I may say, not convicted. I spent an enlightening 24 hours in Shiraz prison. Most people would imagine that it was a place of untold horror. The reality, as I discovered—I managed to have tea with the governor during my short visit—was that the regime was a good 20 to 30 years ahead of our own in terms of the sense with which it was administered. The prison gave meaningful work to most of the 800 prisoners. For that they received a level of reward which we still do not grant in our own prisons. I remember coming back to England with my eyes to some extent opened. The prisons I was then visiting—all the well known names—were in a benighted state. The tragedy is that in the intervening years I do not believe that we have made major strides to remove them from that benighted state.
What is the purpose of prisons? The first purpose is of course punishment. But, as few of the British public seem to understand, the punishment is being in prison, not what happens to you when you are there. It astonishes me that the prisons which our Victorian forefathers built and which are now still used were in their day an infinitely superior set of institutions to that which they are today not merely in terms of the level of occupancy but also in terms of the conditions from which many prisoners came. The crowding and destitution of the time made those prisons rather hotel-like, I suspect, for many of the prisoners.
The second purpose is rehabilitation. How are we doing? The answer is appallingly. We have heard the statistic mentioned that more than 50 per cent of prisoners come back within two years. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, gave us the alarming statistic that it costs £27,000 a year per prisoner. It costs 100,000 for 1128 a new prison place. Yet we continue to run regimes which yield this astonishing result. It is a result which shows up not only in the rates of recidivism, but also in the ever-increasing number of prisoners.
I was horrified to hear the statistic quoted earlier that by 2008, officially we expect to have 83,000 prisoners; namely, another 17,000 prisoners in our gaols. Why is that? Perhaps we should spend another day or even a week in debate in an effort to get to the bottom of this. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, put it: why does this country have such an appalling prison record, let alone the state of the prisons themselves? Perhaps if the Government simply stopped creating new systems, regimes, quangos, laws and regulations for one month and concentrated instead on why, as a nation, we are a massive failure vis-à-vis the numbers who enter our prisons, we might begin to get somewhere.
It is certain that the cost, not only financially but in terms of victims' lives and the lives of those wives and children dependent on the people entering prison, is enormous. Again, how often do we overlook the fact that crime in this country will spread in the future as a result of what is happening today? Along with others, I suggest that education is potentially the most potent force for effective rehabilitation. Many of those working in the education service in prisons do their level best; that is certainly true. But the reality is that however hard they may strive against such levels of ignorance and denigration, the resources devoted to education in prisons are woefully inadequate.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, gave the House a glint of hope when he referred to extra funds to be made available. But those funds are simply inadequate. Given that those caught up in the prison system who are of compulsory school age currently receive an average of only 15 hours' worth of education per week when, had they been attending schools outside the prison system, they would have received 24 hours' worth, and when the Government's Social Exclusion Unit suggests that 30 hours' worth of education per week—double the present amount —is what is needed for such young people, how can we be satisfied with the present situation? We know full well that teaching the kind of young people who go into prisons is 10 times more difficult than teaching any normal class. We have heard about exclusions. But how many of these young people are truants, how many have personality problems, how many have been statemented, and how many have massive special social needs? It is simply impossible remotely to deliver an adequate educational service on the resources currently being made available in prisons.
Perhaps I may cite one or two further facts. For these I am grateful to the Prisoners' Advice Service and the Howard League for Penal Reform. Incidentally, next month the league will publish a book entitled Missing the Grade which addresses these problems. One particular problem is that the assessment of young offenders entering prison is, in reality, simply absent. Often it is undertaken by clerks, although it is a very difficult task. The information that then follows the prisoner into gaol often is completely lacking. Instead 1129 of there being adequate liaison between the relevant education authority and the prison so that at least the prison receives the full educational background of the young prisoner, there is nothing.
Within prisons themselves, apart from the service being grossly overstretched, the provision of education is constantly interrupted. We have heard accounts of how prison governors and staff are shot around in a general auction; so are prisoners. The disciplinary regimes in prisons are such that very often educational programmes are constantly interrupted for what the chief inspector in his most recent report called "trivial reasons". All this and much more make what education is available fatally inadequate.
I also took particular note of the chief inspector's remarks in his last report about the narrowing of the curriculum within prisons. There is a lack of imaginative education. Many prisoners who arrive trapped in a kind of mental box from which enlightened education might help them to escape and see new horizons and new hope for themselves now have no hope of such an escape because many of those programmes are being shut down. Perhaps I may cite one example. Leeds University set up a special degree course in sociology with Full Sutton prison near York. That course has been scrapped, although it was successful and offered new opportunities to people who urgently need them. Furthermore, the fact that those people need them means that we as a society need them as well. Frankly, if all that happens is that yet more prisoners emerge from their incarceration more hard-hearted, anti-social and disengaged from society than they were when they went in, then that is a pathetic parody of rehabilitation.
It is plain that more resources and a new approach to education in prisons are desperately needed. Perhaps I may draw the attention of noble Lords to the prison rules themselves. I refer to rules passed in 1999 under the Prison Act 1952. Regulation 32 states:Educational classes shall be arranged … and … reasonable facilities shall be afforded to prisoners who wish to do so to improve their education by training by distance learning, private study and recreational classes, in their spare time.Special attention shall be paid to the education and training of prisoners with special educational needs, and if necessary they shall be taught within the hours normally allotted to work".That is not happening. Both of those subsections to Regulation 32 are being honoured in the breach. Perhaps we should have a judicial review of what has been happening, because it is plain that it is not in accordance with the law.
I shall close by making one further broad point on leadership, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. Leadership needs to come from politicians. I do not say the following in any spirit of acrimony, but I do not think that governments always deal with these highly sensitive issues of crime and punishment with the courage that they should demonstrate. It is well known that the public at large is susceptible to the crude presentation of the so-called realities of criminals and their victims. It is also well known that in this country, on these matters we have 1130 one of the most ignorant popular presses in the western world. As I have said, I do not think that governments are always courageous when it comes to pointing out the realities; namely, that what is taking place in fact goes against the national interest. It is not simply inhumane, immoral and, in some cases, illegal; it goes against the national interest.
If politicians simply made it known more widely that the extra 17,000 prisoners officially expected to enter our prisons by 2008 will cost almost half a billion pounds a year to maintain and that providing those extra places will cost a further £1.5 billion, perhaps such figures would get through to the great British public. If I was a dictator—and not a liberal one at that—I might say that anyone who wished to write in our newspapers about crime and punishment would need to spend a week in prison before doing so. In a few cases, I might throw away the key.
Unless we can educate public opinion to recognise the reality of the situation, there is little chance that the resources will be made available to undertake the improvements that every noble Lord wants to see. To be honest, there is no chance, because the money needed for prison educational services must attract a far greater foundation of public support than exists at present.
Finally, if it is said that we are being soft on crime to want these improvements, then let us own up to it and say that we are soft on crime. Of course we are not being soft on crime; we are being realistic about it. All the talk about being hard on crime and on the causes of crime should be abandoned; it merely plays to the ignorance of the public. Let us be soft on crime and proud of it, because we know that, in the end, intelligent rehabilitation is the only way forward for the country through this vexed field.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to hold this debate. I have an interest to declare, in that I am a passionate supporter of Safe Ground, a charity which works in prisons, educating some of the more resistant learners.
As has been said, the punishment is the sentence. If we judge prisons as places which are there to keep people who have been sentenced away from the public—to keep them quiet, to keep them reasonably amused with in-cell TV and nothing much else to do—then perhaps we can judge our Prison Service a success. Indeed, it often seemed to me that our two previous Home Secretaries thought of prisons as just that, and did very little else to change the picture.
But, from what I have seen of prisoners—and, I suspect, from what most speakers in the debate have seen of prisoners—it is quite clear that they are every bit as human as the rest of us. They have, for the most part, every bit as much potential as the rest of us to do well in life. We owe it to them, to ourselves as a civilised society and to our own self-interests to make sure that that potential is realised; that those prisoners who wish to are given the best possible chance of leading lives at peace with the rest of us.
1131 If you judge the Prison Service by those criteria, it is something of a mess. There are problems with management; problems with rigidity; after-care is, to say the least, disappointing; and education and rehabilitation come last, last, last in every judgment made in the service.
But I look to the future with a great deal of optimism. You cannot see the joy on the faces of prison officers when Safe Ground brings an ex-offender back into the prison where he served his sentence and not believe that the prisons are not full of people who would respond to better circumstances and better management. You cannot meet the people who are involved in Prison Service education and not believe that, were they given the money—and were the regimes to allow them to educate prisoners—there is immense potential for that aspect of prisoners' lives to he much better.
I have great hopes for the new Home Secretary. He has come out of the Education Service, where he did extremely well. He is a man whose humanity shines through him whenever he speaks. I very much hope that we shall have a lot of good from him in regard to the conduct of the Prison Service over the next four or five years.
I was immensely heartened by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who is a solid supporter of the Government. If he is able to do what he has done in his little bit of the Prison Service, it is surely possible for the Government to follow his example in the rest of it. It is not that hard to do.
The core of what is needed is political will. If the rewards for the management of the Prison Service—if the whole focus of the Prison Service—were based on the rehabilitation and education of prisoners, an awful lot of things would fall into place behind. If that is how management, prison governors, governors below them and prison officers were judged, it would be unnecessary to try to force things in the way that we have to now every time we try to make an improvement to education. The system runs against the grain. If the grain were to run the other way, the whole business would be much easier and much more could be achieved, even with the resources that are being applied now.
Secondly, there should be a considerable emphasis on educating and training prison officers. We have talked a lot about educating prisoners, but prison officers are pretty well neglected in terms of in-service training and the opportunities that they have to educate themselves. About the only facility they are offered is a gym. There is virtually nothing available for them to improve their skills at educating prisoners, which should be their job; at helping prisoners become part of society, which should be their job. That needs a lot of education and training of prison officers. It would be a much more desirable and worthwhile job if they were given that training, and it is high time that they were.
Thirdly, there is tremendous scope for imagination. Prisoners are not a sample of the general population. Indeed, they are a very particular extract of the general 1132 population. An enormous number of them have failed in education and in their lives. They carry the burden of that failure with them. They probably have underlying causes for that failure, or reasons going back to extremely unhappy childhoods. Unless we allow for that in the way that we approach prison education, we shall run straight into a brick wall.
The first attempts—before the great merger with the DfES, which occurred late in the previous Session—at introducing some kind of organised key skills into prison education were masterminded by the QCA. It produced some examinations which would have frightened an A-level student. They were written in a language which no prisoner would recognise; they asked questions which were not relevant to prisoners' lives; and they were set out in small type and hard to read. They took me back to O-levels and to t h e horrors of Latin examinations. And these were intended for people who had failed examinations.
Further, the examinations were available only every six months. How many prisoners are in the same prison six months after they have taken the course? It was not only something that was totally inappropriate to prisons but it took no account of the way in which education was delivered in prisons. It was something which, in the end, had no good effect.
But the merger between prison education and the Department for Education and Skills is, to my mind, a source of great hope. There is real experience of adult education in the DfES and the people involved there are some of its better people. It is a good ministry. If we look forward to what may be achieved there over the next few years, with goodwill from the Prison Service and it being prepared to make the adaptations to the regime which are necessary if education is to be effectively delivered in prisons, we may see some real results.
When you see something done by Safe Ground—as, I am pleased to say, the two previous prison Ministers have, and have applauded it formally—you really see the potential. Even for people who have no qualifications, who have had the most difficult levels of learning and literacy, the potential is there for them to achieve something; to care about education; to like education; to want education. We will understand what the real potential is only if we set about realising it.
It is important that the Prison Service should become a little better at handling the voluntary sector. It is no accident that so many noble Lords are prepared to speak in the debate today. There are a lot of people out there who are prepared to help with working in prisons, with rehabilitating prisoners, and with helping them to get back into the real world afterwards. But it needs organisation, commitment and structure from the Government to make that happen effectively. There is plenty of potential for doing more of that.
Measurement is another thing which is showing signs of coming in. It is essential that we set targets for what we hope to achieve and that we evaluate the processes and procedures that we bring in. We are to 1133 have Ofsted, at last, evaluating prison education. There are some very under-performing sections in prison education, just as there were in schools before Ofsted. The very fact that people are to be inspected will raise the status of prison education when it comes to prison governance.
If we are to produce our own programmes for correcting offending behaviour rather than simply hiring in American programmes, we must be innovative in what we offer. We must evaluate them properly so that everyone can see that they work.
We must be very careful what we do with money. If the Prison Service is going to grow in numbers, there will be a constant pressure on money. The Treasury will always try to reduce the amount of money that the Prison Service has available. The first thing to be cut will be education. Even when the Government announced, a few months ago, additional money for prison education, that was followed by cuts in the education budget in some areas and some prisons. There is so much pressure on the prison budget as a whole.
If we can get ourselves set so that we are looking at a steady or reducing prison population, there will be much more potential for getting prisons right than there ever will be if we allow this increase. I have heard no good reason why we should lock up more people. If we continue to lock up more people, we shall merely do worse by the people we lock up and we shall be storing up more problems for ourselves. I cannot see that as being the right way to go.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Stern
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, on initiating this important debate. I well remember the enormous amount that he achieved during his time as Home Secretary, with great courage, in moving penal policy on to a rational and effective path. I also congratulate the Prison Reform Trust on obtaining so distinguished a chairman. It is a substantial and authoritative organisation. As one who attended the meeting some 20 years ago when the idea of setting up the trust was first discussed, I am proud to see the position that the trust has attained today. Perhaps I may also add my congratulations to Sir David Ramsbotham on his enormous achievements.
I endorse the remarks of all previous speakers. I shall concentrate on a small but vital aspect of the way in which we run our prisons. I want to highlight and raise with the Minister a number of points about the movement towards introducing accredited programmes into prisons. I want to say a word about the Prison Service method of accreditation and to refer to the process, how it affects prisons and what happens to programmes that are not accredited, although they may also be very effective. I want to ask the Minister how he sees the future of this aspect of the Prison Service's work.
I begin with three illustrative anecdotes which I hope will place this theme in context. I am sure the Minister will tell me if I am misinformed, but I 1134 understand that a prison officer from Stocken prison won the Lord Woolf award, one of the highest awards from the Butler Trust—an excellent organisation with which the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, who earlier spoke so eloquently, is connected. The trust searches out outstanding initiatives in prisons and recognises them.
The prison officer from Stocken won the award for a course that he had designed and introduced. He had trained his colleagues in delivering the course and had turned it into a package that was being used in 40 other locations. The course, "Men and Violence", was designed to help men in prison to think about the violence that they had committed and to stop it. The Butler Trust evaluated his work, was deeply impressed and gave him this prestigious award.
Very soon afterwards, the programme failed to be accredited by the Prison Service and was stopped. The prison officer was not offered help in improving it; he was not sent on a training course in course design. It was simply stopped. He and his colleagues were demoralised. They thought, "Why bother?", and returned to a less interactive mode of doing their work.
I cite another example. A drama teacher, said by all those involved with her to be "inspired", worked in three prisons around London doing drama with prisoners. Such work can be very effective in helping people to face up to their problems, to think and to work with others. The teacher won a Butler Trust award last year. Then her contract with the education provider was terminated. She was told that it was not its priority, and that the concentration was on core skills. The case of the Leeds University course referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is another such example.
I hear from dedicated people in the arts world, those who work in theatres, and musicians and artists, that when they work in prisons they feel very much that they are an add-on, that they are not central. They feel that they are rarely seen as part of what the prison is trying to do; and that they are first to go when there is pressure.
The third anecdote relates to a highly respected prison governor. He said to me one day at a meeting: "I've had a really bad day. Headquarters came round to check on our accredited programmes. We got a very low mark because, instead of following the syllabus exactly as laid down, the prison officer teaching the course got involved in a discussion with the prisoners about the subject matter and strayed from the text he was supposed to be following". I wondered whether that was the real reason for the low mark, but apparently it is the case that in order to ensure "programme integrity" the course has to be followed to the letter. Many years ago, I trained as a teacher, so I found that a little odd.
Let me outline the concerns. We are talking about the introduction of programmes for which the Prison Service was able to secure funding out of the moneys made available for crime reduction. These are courses that prisoners can take on controlling anger, on sexual offending, and on learning to think and behave in a 1135 non-criminal way. I must stress that all these things are good in themselves. I spent 25 years of my life working to help criminals to see that there are better ways of living than criminal ways, and helping them to move to a stable, non-criminal life. I met many who said that they needed treatment. They knew as much, but the Prison Service had no treatment to offer them.
I do not suggest for a moment that the Prison Service should not be doing everything in its power to provide something helpful to prisoners that will affect what happens to them when they leave and which will lead them into a different way of life. I, like many other noble Lords, have been a lifelong supporter of the work done at Grendon Underwood prison, of which we can all be proud. It is right that there should be rigour in what is being done. It is right that prisoners should not be guinea-pigs for psychological experiments any more than they should be for medical ones. But my concerns are more specific. First, the Prison Service places a heavy emphasis on programmes that are accredited. These are the most valued and important programmes. Those that are not are second-class and are less likely to get resources. Prison Service performance indicators are based on achieving certain numbers of accredited programmes.
Those with a background in education will think when they hear about accreditation of City and Guilds or of the Open College Network. I know that Deerbolt Young Offenders Institution is accrediting much of its excellent work with the Open College Network. In fact, the accreditation of such programmes is done by the Home Office's own international accreditation panel. Well, it is a slightly international accreditation panel. It has on it four people from the United States and one from Canada. It costs, I believe, £208,000 a year, of which £105,000 is paid to the panel members, although the figures are for 1999–2000 and may be out of date.
The membership of the panel, although distinguished, is very narrow. One person is closely connected with developing the programmes that are subsequently accredited, but there is no one on the panel from mainstream education, from further or higher education, from community education, or from the branch of education dealing with the educationally disadvantaged—which on all the evidence prisoners are.
The panel decides which programmes pass its tests and which do not. Its decisions are based on research about the effects of certain programmes and about how they should be delivered. In this House on 15th May, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, assured us that,international research shows that good programmes which are delivered well can reduce re-offending by up to 33 per cent".Later, he said:The research literature reveals a broad consensus of about a 10 per cent typical reduction in reconviction rates compared with those offenders who do not attend the programmes".—[Official Report, 15/5/01; col. 7.]1136 Speaking in September 2000, the then Minister of State, Mr Boateng, said:accredited programmes do work with each achieving reductions in offending of the order of 15 per cent".I am not sure which of those figures is the one that we should seize upon. Whichever it is, when one looks closely at the background, the evidence is very weak in relation to what has been built on it. The review of the Home Office on this research—Research Study 171—called it "inconclusive", and went on to say:It is not possible to identify precisely which particular forms of intervention are most promising".The more one looks into it, the shakier it becomes. Evidence that certain programmes reduce reconviction rates is based on someone's assumptions about probability. Comparisons are not made between one group of prisoners who completed the programme and another who did not so as to ascertain which group performed better. There is a comparison between the actual reconviction rate after two years and the reconviction rate that would have been predicted after analysing the history and background of the prisoner.
Also, the international research is based on something called "meta-analysis", which means adding together many small studies—one, say, of 20 people in America, while another may be based on 30 people in England. They cover mostly men and very few ethnic minorities. All the results of that research are combined and the process is used to say, "Now we know what works and what doesn't". The Home Office report 171, to which I referred, says:Meta-analysis glosses over the disparate nature of much of this work … Over the different research designs employed in the original studies and over the various success criteria used".None of that research in this country has been subject to external independent review. The figures all come from those responsible for the programmes. Undertaking such research is time consuming, costly and requires access to the Prison Service databases. So only certain activities have been researched: others, like, for example, drama, art or music have not been researched. Therefore, they run the danger of being seen as frills, or as recreational activities.
There is another area of concern; namely, the granting of parole. The study carried out by Professor Roger Hood and Stephen Shute found that in 96 per cent of refusals of parole mention was made of lack of progress in "addressing offending behaviour". The authors of the report conclude that this can lead to unfairness. If such weight is to be given to completing these programmes, it is vital that they should be available to all prisoners and in good time before the parole review begins.
I have a number of questions for the Minister to consider. Have the recommendations of the Hood and Shute report been implemented?—for example, are there intelligible rating scales to enable prisoners' performance on such programmes to be assessed 1137 objectively, whereby prisoners could be provided with an explanation of why they were doing the course and what it would achieve? The Bishop of Lincoln said:Justice is the first virtue of social institutions".Will the Minister consider the justice of basing so many parole decisions on whether the prisoner has completed these programmes, when the programmes are scarcely available in many prisons? Can the Minister tell us when there will be an independent evaluation of these programmes by some reputable academic body? Can the noble Lord also say whether he has it in mind to review the membership of the international accreditation panel? Further, will he consider the advantages to prisoners' resettlement of having a certificate from a recognised educational institution like the Open College Network, which might impress an employer more than the Prison Service accreditation panel? Finally, will he also reflect upon whether the rigidity of the approach to these programmes is having a deadening effect on thousands of prison staff who are doing good work, being creative and trying to work with the prisoners in their prison to turn round their lives?
§ 6.34 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, on introducing this debate on the heels of the Halliday report. I must declare that I am a vice patron of the APEX Trust. This debate is very broad in scope. I shall confine my remarks to women prisoners.
In recent years the number of women in prison has risen sharply: in 1970, there were 988 women; in 1990, there were 1,597; and, at the end of June this year, there were a record 3,736 women in prison. In response to this increase the Prison Reform Trust commissioned a committee chaired by Professor Dorothy Wedderburn to inquire into women's imprisonment. The report, entitled, Justice for Women: The Need for Reform, which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, commended, was published in February of last year.
Wedderburn argues from the outset four particular characteristics of women in custody: first, that the pattern of their offending poses lower risks to the public than that of men; secondly, that nearly half of them had children living with them at the time of their imprisonment, resulting in far greater social consequences, including costs to the state, than in the case of men; thirdly, that the psychological effects of imprisonment on them are more serious than on men; and, fourthly, that the relatively small number of women held in custody results in many being held in prisons far from their homes and constraints on the type of regime that can be provided.
The report seeks ways to reduce the number of women in custody. Wedderburn points out that in 1998 just over half of women prisoners were serving six months or less, and that three quarters of them were serving a year or less. Moreover, most women enter the prison system without having committed a serious offence and, as I said, without being a risk to the 1138 public. Wedderburn stresses the lower average persistence and seriousness of women's offending compared to that of men, and their relatively small total numbers. Paragraph 3.10 of her report says that these differences:Speak not only to the seriousness of female crime but also to the strength of the public demand for women's punishment".The report points to the principle of parsimony—the state should inflict the smallest amount of punishment adequate to protect the community from crime. For all the reasons outlined, and more, the Wedderburn report emphasises the need for parsimony in the use of custody for women, and stresses the alternative of greater use of penalties within the community. The Wedderburn thinking ties in with Recommendation 12 of the Halliday report, which says:Unless only a prison sentence of 12 months or more would meet the needs for punishment, sentencers should consider the scope for a community sentence to meet the needs of punishment, crime reduction and reparation".In a Written Answer on 4th July, my noble friend the Minister said of the Halliday report that the Government wanted to invite views on its recommendations before reaching final conclusions. The view that I should like to express to him is that the Government should treat women prisoners who are guilty of lesser crimes as a special case, and that, in general, they should drink in the contents of the Wedderburn report. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that Wedderburn's views on the sentencing of women for less serious crimes dovetails with Halliday's finding?
I move on to another point. At paragraphs 1.38 and 6.15 of her report, Wedderburn raises the question of women who are foreign nationals serving relatively long determinate sentences for drug offences. In 1998 such foreign women made up just over one-tenth of all women in prison. They have problems in dealing with solicitors and staff. They have terrible difficulties keeping in touch with their children and families abroad. Moreover, they can be isolated in prison by language and cultural barriers. At the end of their sentence many of them will be deported. Clearly, reintegration in their own communities abroad cannot be a realistic objective of their custody in this country.
Wedderburn recommends that the Government, with advice from the Criminal Justice Consultative Council, should, as a matter of urgency, consider the policy questions raised by women who are foreign nationals serving relatively long determinate sentences. My own visit to Holloway prison on Monday confirms these findings by Wedderburn. The quantity of foreign language books in the library, especially Spanish—which brought to mind South Americans—indicated the number of foreign prisoners. The two women from Jamaica, and the woman from Cameroon to whom I talked, emphasised their terrible difficulties in keeping in touch with their children. There were 452 prisoners in Holloway on Monday and nearly 100 of them were foreign nationals.
1139 When I went to see the deputy governor at the end of my visit, I asked him what he thought of Professor Wedderburn's proposal of an inquiry. He strongly supported her. Could my noble friend the Minister say whether the Government are considering such an inquiry?
I come to my final point. When the Wedderburn report reaches its summary of recommendations its very first proposal is that a national women's justice board should be established immediately as a statutory commissioning body which would resemble in many respects the national Youth Justice Board, as the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, stressed.
The Lord Chief Justice is of like mind to Wedderburn. In an address to the Prison Reform Trust on 31st January this year, the noble and learned Lord said,There should be a Board responsible for women in the criminal justice system. Its responsibilities in relation to women should be similar to that of the Youth Justice Board. It should regard its primary responsibility to be to contain the growth of the women prison population".This quotation was put to the Government during Starred Questions on 15th February at col. 337. My noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton replied:The Lord Chief Justice's suggestion is very helpful and it reflects well on the work of the Youth Justice Board. We shall obviously consider the matter in the most positive light and give it very careful consideration".—[Official Report, 15/2101; col. 337.]I wonder if my noble friend the Minister can say whether government thinking about such a board has yet crystallised. No single step could do more to show the Government's awareness of the special problems of women prisoners than to establish such a board.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, no doubt we would wish to accept two premises as background to this debate. The first is that in Britain or elsewhere prisons can never be isolated or sidelined from the rest of society. Inevitably they form a reflection of their own countries and communities. Nor, secondly, can prisons be isolated between one country and another; otherwise, the only consequence would be to abandon comparison, analysis and even the concept of best practice itself. Clearly those methods should be constantly deployed. Within Europe and internationally, different permutations within custodial and non-custodial systems must be regularly evaluated and compared in order to help evolve and produce, here and elsewhere, far better procedures and results than those which currently obtain.
It is particularly fitting that my noble friend Lord Hurd should initiate this discussion. All of us recall the broad and. constructive approach he adopted as Home Secretary. It is just that kind of approach, which he explained to us today, that is essential to the success of the British Prison Service.
As things are—and as a number of your Lordships have stressed—regrettably our Prison Service reveals some striking anomalies. The first concerns prisoner recidivism. While we spend less than our European partners on health and education, we spend much 1140 more on prisons. Per head of population our prison numbers are higher than theirs. Yet, at 75 per cent, our prisoner recidivism level has not lowered as a result of increased expenditure. Nor has it become any lower than the European average. Nevertheless, as several of your Lordships observed, that inconsistency is sometimes condoned. It has been alleged that a significant rise in the number of prisons and prisoners is still desirable even it if fails to reduce prisoner recidivism at all. The rise in detention figures has been defended on the ground that somehow it protects communities all the better and thus somehow contributes to local and national security all the more. However, the reverse is the case. An increase in detention in itself is harmful. At both national and local levels it damages morale and confidence and it undermines families and communities.
During our recent home affairs debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, mentioned the problem facing United States communities and what is referred to there as "collateral damage" caused by the unnecessarily high level of the prison population. A further anomaly concerns the relationship between custodial and non-custodial sentences. We have seen the introduction and steady application of non-custodial sentences. However, not only have these failed to effect a proper reduction in custodial sentences, they have even co-existed with the large growth in custodial sentences already indicated. In spite of the availability of non-custodial sentences, there are still far too many—both below and above the age of 17—who are imprisoned for minor crimes and who should not be imprisoned at all. In particular, there are still far too many young people detained. Among others, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln and my noble friend Lord Elton emphasised that in the majority of cases the detention of young people is as futile as it is counter-productive.
Then, ironically enough, there is even the worrying anomaly relating to the pursuit of best practice. Recently, the Government appear to have expressed all the right sentiments. Within prisons they seek to address the task of rehabilitation systematically. Their aims include better education, improved employability and reduced drug dependency. Yet such schemes will work properly only if the number of prisoners reduces; otherwise, resources will remain too overstretched for prison staff to fulfil those objectives. Improved rehabilitation levels and reduced prisoner numbers are anyway inevitably connected for humanitarian reasons as well as those of efficient delivery. Does the Minister agree that the Government's plans for prisoner rehabilitation, while much to be welcomed, will nevertheless fail unless they correspond to proper targets for the reduction of prisoner numbers? Conversely, can he give the commitment that the Government will therefore connect targets for improved prisoner rehabilitation with those for reduced prisoner numbers?
My second theme is the scope for improvement which can arise out of comparisons between our own Prison Service and others. The focus must be upon evidence of what works best in the form of combined 1141 measures to deter crime and to promote security through improved rehabilitation and reduced re-offending.
Ironically enough, and in spite of their recent civil war, certain states within the former Yugoslavia already reveal encouraging prison management results which in several respects stand to give good guidance to ourselves and to other European states. Two such are Slovenia and Croatia. The Croatian prison service provides a clear example. It has comparatively low numbers of prisoners per head of population and it demonstrates comparatively high levels of civilian prisoner rehabilitation. As chairman of the UK Parliamentary Group for Croatia and as a Council of Europe parliamentarian, I was able to introduce our own Home Office overseas service to the Croatian prison service. This has led to the establishment of a training centre by Zagreb for the training of prison governors and other staff.
Clearly, there are many constructive channels for disseminating improved practice between different states for the better management of their prisons. Not least there are some excellent institutions which promote the exchange of information and ideas. Such institutions include the International Centre for Prison Studies and the Prison Reform Trust, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hurd. Can the Minister say what steps the Government are now taking, or propose to take, to assist the exchange of information and ideas both in the interest of our own Prison Service as well as that of others?
In summary, current challenges presented by prisons to the Government are quite plain: to reduce prisoner re-offending and thus prisoner numbers; and to enhance prisoner rehabilitation and, hence, also to improve community morale and security. The Government must acknowledge all the many deficiencies and anomalies which still obtain and which have been outlined today. They must adjust by heeding evidence and case studies. And they must set a much more responsible example and produce radically better results both within this country and its communities and for the benefit of others elsewhere.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. There is a general consensus in your Lordships' House about what is wrong in our prisons. This House is at its best when it speaks with one voice. We saw that demonstrated today. I hope that the Home Secretary will take note of what has been said but, more importantly, of what we need to do.
I consider it a great privilege to participate in this debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, who as a good and effective Home Secretary introduced many liberal and positive measures in the criminal justice system. This could not have been an easy task particularly at a time when the debate on law and order at the Conservative Party conferences centred around harsh and punitive measures.
1142 We must also not forget that much of the foundation for sound policies were laid down by such reformist Home Secretaries as my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and Lord Whitelaw. The action of those noble Lords demonstrates that we have to provide leadership on issues on which the community may not always be comfortable. They have demonstrated that given the right leadership there are no issues within the penal establishments that we cannot tackle.
Perhaps I may draw attention to the leadership shown by Martin Narey, the Director-General of the Prison Service, and the important matter of the race relations policy within the service. I am also grateful for the contribution made by Judy Clements, the Prison Service race relations adviser. Perhaps I may also add the gratitude of this side of the House for the work done by the previous inspectors of prisons, Sir Stephen Tumim and Sir David Ramsbotham. How right we were in an earlier debate in the previous Parliament to object to the Home Office plan to merge the prison and probation inspectorates. We can clearly demonstrate a positive effect: the appointment of Anne Owers; we wish her a lot of luck.
We have to go back to October 1979 to consider the key findings of the May Committee of Inquiry into the Prison Service. Its objectives are as relevant today as they were then. They were:to create an environment which can assist prisoners to respond and contribute to society as positively as possible; preserve and promote their self-respect; minimise to the degree of security necessary in each particular case the harmful effects of their removal from normal life; [and] prepare them for and assist them in discharge".As many noble Lords have pointed out, in April 1990 the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, produced his report on prison disturbances. Its central finding was that,The prison service must set security, control and justice in prisons at the right level and it must provide the right balance between them".Many of those recommendations have been translated in the Prison Service's statement of purpose. One will see them displayed prominently outside any prison.
The question we must ask is this: are prisons meeting those objectives? If not, what are the reasons for that? More importantly, what alternatives are available to sentencers? Instead of making it less likely that the offender will offend again there is no dispute, particularly with young offenders, that a custodial sentence increases that danger. That must be a constant worry. It is the more so if costs are taken into account. Non-custodial sentences cost considerably less than custodial sentences. There is no evidence that non-custodial sentences are not at least as likely to prevent reoffending as custodial sentences. Extensive use of prisons or custodial alternatives are poor value to the public. I value the work of the Youth Justice Board and its work in relation to diverting young people away from custody. I was grateful to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, of the contribution of the Youth Justice Board.
1143 Imprisonment is not more successful in preventing re-offending because prisoners have so little responsibility for what happens to them during the period of sentence. The conditions which exist in our prisons cause a substantial number of prisoners to leave prison more embittered and hostile to society than when they arrived.
In a Question that I asked on 18th July 2000 the Government stated that £1 million spent on building and running more prisons would result in approximately 180 recorded offences being prevented annually. The corresponding figure for drug treatment programmes in prisons was 500. It was refreshing to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, on drugs and their effects in prisons.
I was delighted that in his contribution to the gracious Speech the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that he intended to examine how enacting new laws has helped in reducing crime. There has never been an official count of the number of criminal offences on the statute book. According to Justice, in 1980 it was estimated to be about 7,200. Andrew Ashworth estimates that by the year 2000 that would probably have reached 8,000. Since 1st May 1997, in an Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, to me the Government have confirmed that 139 new offences have been created in legislation during 1999–2000. That does not take into account all new offences created in public legislation. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, all the best in his examination of the statutes.
Surely no one can deny the direct relevance of sentencing to prison populations. Is it not time to allow legislation to bed down so that we can consider its effectiveness? What is the reality? As at 26th June the prison population stood at 67,000. It has increased by 60 per cent since 1963. We imprison a higher proportion of our population than any other country in the western world except Portugal.
There is ample evidence to suggest that prisons do not rehabilitate. They contribute to social exclusion. Family ties are severed but, more importantly—it is confirmed by the Home Office—the size of the prison population has no effect on overall levels of crime. So much for those who advocate that prison works, my Lords.
I wonder whether the Minister would care to comment on the impact on the prison population if we were to make less use of remand in custody, with an alternative to prison for fine defaulters, and directed mentally disturbed offenders away from prisons? We all share the concern expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln on matters relating to mentally ill offenders.
Anyone who listened to the Minister's reply yesterday to a question from my noble friend Lord Russell would be seriously concerned about the level of unemployment among our young people. The Minister stated yesterday that 31 per cent of men and women of the 16 to 24 age group in Bradford were not in work. Nationally the figure is 40 per cent and figures relating to all groups of all races now stand at 65 per 1144 cent. That must be a considerable contributory factor in terms of crime and criminality. It is not just the disturbance in northern cities: the impact of unemployment on crime must be worrying. Despite all the employment policies, what are the Government doing about people in this age group?
The Minister has a special responsibility for immigration and asylum matters. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture has repeatedly drawn attention to deficiencies in our prisons. Only a few minutes ago I was handed a press release from the medical foundation about the treatment of asylum seekers, particularly those who have suffered persecution. It was most concerned about 11 cases of torture victims who had been detained in mainstream prisons instead of receiving temporary admission. The press release says:In each of the eleven cases, the asylum seekers were imprisoned—on average for just over 9 months, but in one case for more than 20 months—despite giving evidence of torture during initial interviews with immigration officers about their reasons for fleeing into exile".At the beginning of a new Parliament, it is appropriate to ask the Government what steps they will take over the course of this Parliament, not just in the current legislative Session, to reduce crime. A key element of that strategy must be attempts to reduce reoffending by ex-prisoners.
I chair the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. Our resettlement surveys show that 55 per cent of prisoners were unemployed before entering prison, while another 34 per cent lost jobs because of their prison sentence. Many prisoners lack the basic skills that will help them to get jobs. The difficulty of getting jobs is compounded by discrimination by many employers against ex-offenders. In a recent survey of ex-offenders in NACRO housing and employment training projects, 60 per cent had been explicitly refused jobs because of a criminal record. In most cases, their convictions had no obvious relevance to the jobs for which they were applying.
NACRO's resettlement surveys also show that 13 per cent of prisoners were homeless before imprisonment, while another 34 per cent lost their home through imprisonment. One third of prisoners say that they have lost contact with family or friends as a result of imprisonment. Many prisoners face acute financial problems on leaving prison. The discharge grant that released prisoners receive is equivalent to just one week's income support, but it has to tide them over until they become eligible for their first benefit payment at least two weeks after release. A lack of money on release inevitably increases the temptation to reoffend.
The inadequacy of resettlement arrangements is particularly marked in relation to short-term prisoners. Most prisoners are short-term prisoners. Of the 90,000 people sentenced to imprisonment each year, 60,000 receive sentences shorter than 12 months. A further 45,000 people each year are remanded in custody for short prison terms but are subsequently 1145 acquitted or given non-custodial sentences. Short-term prisoners receive no post-release supervision from the National Probation Service. Any assistance that they receive comes from voluntary organisations, whose funding is limited and whose availability is therefore geographically variable.
The importance to the crime reduction agenda of tackling the practical problems of prisoners' housing and employment is clear from a glance at research findings. Unemployed ex-offenders are twice as likely to reoffend as those who get a job and keep it. Homeless ex-offenders are nearly two and a half times as likely to be reconvicted as those with stable accommodation. Prisoners without family support are between two and six times more likely to reoffend than those with support from a family.
The Government have taken a number of steps to improve the situation. They have issued a Prison Service standard on resettlement. From next year they will introduce a joint key performance indicator on resettlement for the Prison Service and probation service, which will set targets for increasing the number of ex-offenders who leave prison with jobs and homes to go to.
I welcome the establishment of a Prison Service custody-to-work unit with £30 million of funding over the next three years. The Government have said that they will consider introducing a new "custody plus" sentence for short-term prisoners, under which a period in custody would be followed by a period of post-release supervision by the probation service.
There are some good arguments for extending post-release supervision by the probation service to all released prisoners by means of "custody plus". That does not mean that prisoners' practical housing, employment and benefit needs will necessarily be sorted out.
There is also a range of other measures that would greatly increase the prospects for successful resettlement. My organisation has produced a number of reports. I hope that the Minister and his staff will look seriously at our suggestions. There should be national standards and robust monitoring for the valuable work that is being done.
If the overall public climate is a harsh one, fuelled by Ministers' tough-sounding rhetoric, the courts will respond by imprisoning ever more offenders. If we want a balanced sentencing and penal policy with a sparing and appropriate use of prison and a greater use of community supervision, Ministers must go out and sell the case just as strongly as some of their predecessors have sold the case for harsher punishment. In that respect, I value the contribution that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, made when he was Home Secretary.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, this has been an impressive and thoughtful debate at a very opportune time with some notable and very well-informed speeches. Like others, I thank my noble friend Lord 1146 Hurd very much for introducing the debate. I am glad that our Front Bench was able to support it. My noble friend's work with the Prison Reform Trust has rightly been commended. The work of that organisation and others means that prison issues and their place in the criminal justice system are better understood and accepted than they were a few years ago.
As my noble friend said, the debate follows an important series of speeches by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, by the Director-General of the Prison Service and, to the Prison Reform Trust itself, by the retiring Chief Inspector of Prisons—partly written by Lady Ramsbotham, as we heard. Like others, I pay tribute to Sir David for all his work. He clearly had excellent support.
I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln on the recognition that he received in the Birthday Honours for his work in connection with prisons.
The workload of the Prison Service is the result of the decisions and actions of others—the decisions by criminals to commit crime, police action to bring those offenders to justice, the decisions of judges and magistrates in passing sentences and the decisions of Parliament in setting the framework within which that is done. In Treasury-speak, the Prison Service is demand driven. The trouble is that the demand increases steadily, but the finances do not catch up. Hence the serious problem of overcrowding, which, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice made very clear in his lecture in January, makes any attempt at improving the conditions in any respect very difficult.
The problem is not new. My involvement with prisons, which is modest in comparison with that of everyone else who has spoken today, started when I was elected to another place in 1974. My constituency of South Gloucestershire included one prison, one remand centre, one young offenders centre—all new since the war—and a prison officers' training school. In 1977, the Prison Service celebrated its centenary at the Leyhill training school in my constituency. I still have somewhere the short history of that century that was given out that day. It listed the 18 professional heads of the service—their title had varied a little—over the century. There had been nine in the first 80 years and nine in the last 20. Almost all the latter had come from outside the service and, indeed, went on to serve elsewhere in public service—one, if I remember rightly, as head of the Inland Revenue. Therefore, it is no wonder that at that time the service lacked consistency of purpose and simply rumbled on as a forgotten entity.
The other striking figures were those relating to the number of people in prison during that century. The numbers had fallen fairly steadily over the early decades until the 1930s, when they stabilised at approximately 11,000 on any given day. However, following the war, the numbers increased each decade by roughly 10,000. That is still continuing. Now, 67,000 people are in prison, and the expectation is that 1147 the number will rise to more than 80,000. It is no wonder that the service can never catch up, as several noble Lords have pointed out.
I find those statistics very depressing. Frankly, I also find the forecast unacceptable. We simply cannot go on, decade after decade, planning for ever-increasing numbers on that scale. But over that period and since, prison building, at ever-increasing rates, has been constant. However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, spelt out so effectively in his lecture, increasing numbers and consequent overcrowding have been the ever-present block to progress.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, also pointed us towards some of the ways to tackle the problem. There is, of course, no single solution; everything needs to move together. But since 1977 much has happened—among other things, huge investment, as set out by my noble friend Lord Elton. We have also seen the reintroduction of the post of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, abolished in 1877, the introduction of the prison ombudsman and, for that matter, agency status for the Prison Service.
On a more mundane level, slopping out was almost eliminated, although I believe that it has returned, at least for the time being. In passing, I must admit that I preferred the electronic locking system, which we tried in Northern Ireland when I had responsibility for prisons there. That system enabled a prison officer in a control room to permit prisoners access to the lavatory at night, or whenever, at the end of the corridor. It provided an alternative to keeping all prisoners locked in cells which were part lavatory—frankly, not a good arrangement.
Another thing that has occurred is the introduction of private prisons. They are, in general, proving to be a success. I share the hope of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that public sector prisons will do their best to learn from private sector prisons, as well as the other way round. In that respect, I am concerned about the position of Brixton prison. We are told by the newspapers that it will not now be privatised. I believe that it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us what is happening, not necessarily this evening—he cannot reply to everything in a long and diffuse debate of this kind—but perhaps in writing.
Similarly, I am concerned about Blakenhurst prison. It was doing well as a privately run prison. It was commended by both the Select Committee of another place and the Chief Inspector. However, it has reverted to being publicly run, and I am told that prisoners are now locked up more frequently, including at 5.30 p.m. each evening, and that they must eat in their cells, which have integral sanitation. Purposeful activity has been cut back. Again, I hope that the Minister can reassure me about the position there.
The sentencing framework, which forms part of the background to this matter, has been reviewed by Mr Halliday and his colleagues. Several noble Lords have commented on that during the course of the debate. The Halliday report is important and detailed. 1148 I shall confine myself to saying that I agree with all those who have said today and on other occasions that we should try to co-ordinate more closely custodial and community sentences and that we should have overt joint combined sentences—sometimes called "seamless" sentences—so that remedial efforts, in and out of prison, for certain individuals are joined up.
Work in the youth justice field is well in hand under the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and his hoard. I noted his plan to extend that work to 18 to 20 year-olds because his board has shown up the deficiencies in that respect.
However, I do not agree with the implication which sometimes surfaces when this matter is discussed that the custodial part of a seamless sentence is the punitive bit and the community part the remedial bit. The time spent in prison, even if short, provides the best opportunity for education. As we know, the literacy and numeracy figures remain dreadful. Several noble Lords, starting with my noble friend Lord Windlesham, emphasised that point during the course of the debate.
The time spent in prison also provides the best opportunity for assessment and sometimes even for the treatment of drug use or physical or mental illness. A prisoner is in prison for 24 hours a day. His or her life will be changed for better or worse, and the time must be used to the maximum effect. I realise that that time is often short. A person sentenced to six months now usually spends only approximately six weeks in prison. But much can be accomplished even in that period.
In that context, I do not believe that it is irrelevant to mention my National Service. A very mixed bunch of highly reluctant conscripts, aged 18 plus, flooded into the Army thousands at a time. We underwent eight weeks' basic training, and it is astonishing to recall what the Army training system achieved in that time. I am not suggesting that prisoners should march about, as we did. But we received very effective tuition over that period. It was carefully thought through and adapted to the task of conveying information to us in a short space of time. However, that all requires resources and good management. That is why all the points made about overcrowding are so important.
Several noble Lords who have spoken in the debate have been members of boards of visitors. One point that I noticed in particular during a speech by the Lord Chief Justice was his suggestion that the Home Office should value more highly than it appears to do at present the boards of visitors and the work that they carry out. I believe that they play a valuable role not only on behalf of the public but also in relating the work of the Prison Service to the public. Prisons are integrated into their communities more successfully in that manner than they are, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, indicated, by localising the Prison Service.
I have said a little about education. Many noble Lords have spoken on that subject and I do not need to emphasise it further. The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Dholakia, referred to keeping asylum seekers in prison. My noble friend Lord Hurd 1149 urged us to keep party politics out of the debate. I hope that I shall not cause him irritation by mentioning this subject. Noble Lords know that we believe that secure reception centres would help in the problem of looking after asylum seekers. However, none of us thinks that prison and prison regimes provide the answer, and we should seek to avoid them. Winchester, Cardiff and Maidstone prisons, together with some others, were mentioned in this regard. The matter of how asylum seekers are treated when they are in prison is also important. I have received reports of prisoners being taken in handcuffs to health centres and so on. That does not appear to be entirely necessary.
My noble friend Lord Chadlington spoke powerfully about drugs and their effect on prisons and overcrowding. Other noble Lords have referred to that also. If my noble friend will forgive me, I shall not discuss the drug problem outside prisons, but I want to say a word about drugs and drug-dealing in prison. My right honourable friend Michael Howard made serious assault in prison a criminal offence. It was to be tried in a court and involved a separate sentence. I believe that we should adopt that approach for those who are accused of serious drug-dealing in prison. Thus, instead of receiving loss of remission or a day or two added to their sentences, such prisoners would appear in court for drug-dealing and would receive, in the normal manner, a full sentence relevant to the offence and its circumstances.
As many noble Lords have said in different ways, we have a fine Prison Service that contains many excellent people. However, as this debate has emphasised, there is a great deal to do. We must do all that we can to reduce the rates of offending and re-offending and get to the point at which prison numbers can come down again. Prisons—in co-operation, of course, with the rest of the criminal justice system—play an increasingly important role for our society. They need our interest and support, which this debate has shown.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker)
My Lords, I will do my best to respond to this debate. My honourable friend in another place, the Minister responsible for prisons, cannot sit in the other place through a debate like that which we are having on prisons; that is not how it works. As noble Lords know, I am on a very steep learning curve and my experience today is part of that.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, on the way in which he introduced this debate; he set the tone. Some noble Lords to whom I have to respond have real "hands-on" experience of the situation. My experience is not like that; I have made the odd visit over the years to my local prison, which, from time to time, gets a real "towelling" from the authorities for its standards. There was recently a seriously bad report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons. My only other experience is of visiting constituents up and down the country. When it was essential for me to meet a constituent I have been to the south coast and way up north—hundreds of miles from Birmingham. 1150 Like everyone else, I was treated like a visitor; there was no cup of tea with the governor, to which one noble Lord referred.
I came to this debate armed with a prepared text—Ministers always do. It was prepared on the basis of what it was thought the usual suspects would say, it defended our current policies and it shared some experiences. I was also supplied with notes but it would take the best part of an hour to use them to respond to individual noble Lords. Worse than that—this is the officials' nightmare—I made my own notes as the debate went along. I propose in the short time available to use a combination of all three sources in my response.
I say at the outset that noble Lords have raised serious issues and questions. I shall make it my personal business to ensure that any points to which I do not respond today are replied to in writing. The need relating to the detail of questions and the seriousness of the issues is such that it demands a response.
I do not know about Blakenhurst, but earlier today I approved a Written Answer which will be published tomorrow in Hansard regarding slopping out. The normal regime in this country at the moment is that there is no slopping out, but three wings of a prison which were expected to be demolished and which were never modernised are relevant. The prison's name currently escapes me. However, every prisoner has access to an electronic or manual control to go to the toilet during the night. It is true that in those three wings prisoners are provided with a bucket in case they do not want to ring for a prison officer. The Written Answer is more detailed than that.
On asylum seekers, I wish that I could share more with the House. There was a brief debate earlier this morning in another place—in Westminster Hall—during which my colleague, Angela Eagle, made it clear that our intention is to get asylum seekers out of prison by Christmas. My view is that we should do so by Christmas Eve, not Boxing Day. I know that an earlier date was set but it was not appropriate. That is obviously a generalisation and applies to those who have not committed any offences. Obviously I cannot go into details.
I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. As a noble Lord rightly said, he is a former Home Secretary who has stayed on watch over the years after having left that office. He has made a tremendous contribution with the Prison Reform Trust, which I congratulate on reaching its 20th anniversary.
I have not had the privilege of meeting Sir David Ramsbotham but I have listened to him in various interviews and looked at some of the reports, particularly when I was a constituency Member of Parliament in the other place. Last week—from about Monday onwards—the "Today" programme was advertising this Monday's programme virtually on a daily basis. I said, "I'll never be able to listen to the programme but make sure that I get a transcript". I read it yesterday and have it with me now. It was very 1151 interesting and I pay tribute to Sir David for his work. I make no criticism whatsoever; one does not appoint independent inspectors and ombudsman-type people to produce independent reports and then complain about what they write.
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, we have a constructive dialogue. The same was the case in my previous department at the DSS with the pensions ombudsman. That is the role of ombudsmen; if they did not do that they would not be doing their job. I pay tribute to Sir David Ramsbotham and I hope that I shall have good contacts with his successor, Anne Owers.
The state of prisons is a major concern for this House. When I first obtained my ministerial position in the Home Office I realised that I was de facto Home Secretary in this House in the sense that I answered on all relevant matters. I said, "Look, I can't possibly be put in the position in which a noble Lord stands up and asks, 'How many prisons have you visited since you have been at the Home Office?', to which I would have to answer, 'None'. My day job relates to other areas but I have got to get round the prison estate".
I will share with the House a couple of examples. On the morning before I made my maiden speech in this House I had a quick two-hour trip to Wormwood Scrubs on my way here. Last Friday morning I was at Brinsford. There will be more visits—in fact, there will he one tomorrow morning, but I do not want to advertise it in advance; it is not an unannounced visit but it is not of great moment for the House. When I make visits around the country relating to my immigration responsibilities I try to make it my business to ensure that there are areas of the Home Office estate—particularly prisons—that I can visit. That is important because it allows me report back to this House and to share my experience with ministerial colleagues.
In my notes I wrote that the theme of the debate was education, drugs, women and young people. Other issues, including asylum seekers, were raised—I do not suggest that they are not important—but those themes were mentioned more often by noble Lords. I have a "set piece" relating to the population, funding and investment, the importance of managing the service, young offenders and resettlement. Those matters are interrelated in many ways.
It is true that the prison population is high and that it has been getting higher. We in this country are not proud of the fact that we have more people per head of population in that position than anywhere else in Europe except Portugal. That is nothing to be proud of. For the information of noble Lords, today's count is 66,874.
Last week, following the Halliday report, the Home Secretary announced a significant consultation exercise on the future of sentencing arrangements. I cannot go into great detail because there is not enough time but there will be plenty of opportunities to do so. When the Home Secretary spoke on the 1152 gracious Speech, he meant what he said; I repeated in this House the fact that we want to have a consensus if we can. We want to share and consult before key decisions are made and to have as open a debate as possible. We are almost unique among civilised countries in that we have a party-political dog-fight over the criminal justice system; it need not be like that. That arrangement does not benefit the population as a whole, let alone the prison population.
The Government are not in the business of being driven by the size of the prison population. Our starting point—our priority—is to reduce crime; it is not necessarily to look at the size of the prison population. My view, which I believe was also expressed by other noble Lords today, is that some prisoners should not be in prison; I simply do not understand why fine defaulters are in prison How can they pay the fine? How can anything positive come of that? Where there has been no offence such as theft in the sense of acquisitive burglary or violence against people, it does not make sense to send people to prison.
I read this morning of a recent case—thank goodness it was in the press otherwise it would simply have been in internal Home Office papers—involving a woman who had a disagreement of some kind about a debt of around £200. I believe she would not answer the judge in court and he said, "Contempt. Seven days' imprisonment". The woman was a thalidomide victim who had no arms and no legs. The prison had not made preparation and she had to spend two nights in a police station. What was the system thinking about in sentencing someone like that to seven days' imprisonment? It was absolutely appalling. She quite rightly won a human rights claim because the prison could not take care of her properly. It does not make sense to put that kind of pressure on the prison system. I know this may be construed as an attack on the judge but it is not meant to be personal.
Why are we sending people to prison and what are the benefits of so doing? No doubt we can all find similar examples. Of course, we are planning to increase capacity. In many ways, on a narrow interpretation of Halliday, we could have a rise in the prison population before it reduces. But it is important to remember that the aim is to reduce the numbers of people serving custodial sentences.
In relation to women in prison, I shall certainly make an effort to visit the women's estate. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, reminded us of the issues in that regard, as did many other noble Lords. As I understand it from the report of Professor Wedderburn, published in February last year, she met the former prisons Minister. The issues in that report are still being considered. I understand that the Chief Inspector of Prisons completed a follow-up to his thematic report, Women in Prison, and that was being published today.
It is a serious issue. The female prison population has almost doubled in the past five years. The increases in the sentences on women for drug offences explain 50 per cent of that net increase. Some of those are foreign nationals who came here as drug mules, which 1153 brings real difficulty. It is a major issue for their families, their children and the fact that we now have record numbers in the prisons.
In respect of drugs, I wanted to make one point. I know we have not been at all party political today, but at one point I thought I heard someone say, "the socialist government elected in 1997". It was the very powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington. I was extremely glad to be here to listen to it, as with all the other speeches. Powerful lessons can be learnt.
The noble Lord asked specifically about the story in today's Evening Standard. The issue is included in tomorrow's business when I will be bringing forward an order for the support of the House in relation to part of the process of the pilot studies for testing alleged criminals who have been arrested and charged with specific offences in connection with Class A drugs—cocaine and heroin. Those schemes are to be piloted in one part of London and in Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire. I shall give more details tomorrow. That is connected with a longitudinal study. We must find out more because drugs and acquisitive crime are closely related. We know that, particularly when it comes to Class A drugs.
I realise that I am nowhere near coping with the time constraints, but I should like to mention funding and investment. There has been an increase in funding in real terms of 13 per cent since 1997–98 and by 2003–04 it will have increased by 23 per cent from that base line. The Prison Service has focused on key priorities, spending £8 million on suicide prevention and £5 million each year over the next three years on the young offenders' estate. I cannot do better than support and reinforce the issues mentioned by my noble friend Lord Warner.
I saw the effect of that at Brinsford and the contrast between the juvenile section and the 18 to 20 section. The governor was extremely conscious of what they had been able to do for one part of Brinsford but not yet the other. There is no question but that it is a serious issue.
I spoke to two young men, both aged 18 sharing the same cell. I was not quizzing them too much. I asked how long they had been there and how many times. One offered the information that he had been there four times. He was aged 18 and had spent his 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th birthdays in Brinsford on four separate visits. I asked the other gentleman the same questions. He said that this was his first visit and then, without any further prompting from anybody, said, "But after I get out I suppose I'll be back". Those were his words. I asked why he thought that. He said, "Well, I'll be with the gang and my mates".
That is depressing in the extreme. I visited the schools and the classrooms on the upper floor at Brinsford where there were two teachers from an offshoot of the local college which had the contract, with around 12 young men of similar age. They were teaching the most basic of writing and communication skills. It is absolutely clear, without knowing anything about the backgrounds of those young men, that they 1154 had been thrown out of school years before. They were not products of the secondary education system. The schools were able to get rid of them; the prison could not. The prison could not say, "You are being disruptive. We do not want you".
But that indicates absolute failure. This is 2001. Those people were around 18. They have come through an educational system which has completely failed them. As most other noble Lords said, there is a direct link between their education and their offending. We must therefore make extra efforts in the schools. David Blunkett is very conscious of that and he will appreciate—I say so on his behalf—what has been said about him and his efforts to bring some of that ethos over to the Home Office. That is not an unimportant point. We have to do better, otherwise there will be an inexorable increase which will do nobody any good.
We can all pay tribute to the calibre of the Prison Service and the quality of the people who work and effectively live in the prisons as officers and staff, on whatever level. I freely admit that there have been problems and action has been taken against some officers. More than one officer has gone to prison for the mistreatment of prisoners. We will not tolerate that under any circumstances. We will back the governors, though it is a worry that the amount of time a governor spends in the prison raises issues of quality of management and bringing forward cadres for other skills to come forward in the governor grades.
Problems will obviously arise when there are frequent changes of governor. It is the same in a school. If it has three or four head teachers over the same number of years, obviously the school will have problems. In the prisons, if the top person changes frequently it is self-evident that problems will arise. That would be the situation in any walk of life.
I know my visit to Wormwood Scrubs was a brief visit—only a couple of hours—but I found that over 50 per cent of the prison population there are foreign nationals. That places enormous pressures on the prison management. It is a combination of Uxbridge and Heathrow. Wormwood Scrubs becomes the receiving house. Excellent work has been done by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise in relation to those seeking to bring drugs into the country, but nevertheless real pressures are placed on the prison when 50 per cent of its population are foreign nationals.
In terms of the issues relating to resettlement, noble Lords got it right. It is not the case that resettlement relates to the short time after the sentence. Education has to take place over the whole of the sentence, and outside the prison. Of course if such education is conducted outside then people may not have gone to prison in the first place. We must have a more workmanlike and civilised approach, but must still take account of the reality. Until we can bring about a real reduction in crime, we shall certainly have to provide more places. I believe we will have some substantial debates on the legislation coming forward 1155 later this Session and certainly when we propose the consequences of the consultation on the Halliday report.
I regret that I have gone over time, but I would like to give a couple of facts and figures regarding the education that takes place in prison. A substantial amount of work takes place. Over the years the treatment of prisoners has improved considerably. No prisoner is held three-to-a-cell in a cell designed for one, despite the record population of the past few weeks. Fifty thousand educational certificates were achieved by prisoners last year and completion of offending behaviour programmes is up by 336 per cent on 1996/97.
I accept that there is some criticism. I am afraid I shall not be able to go into detail on the points raised by my noble friend Lady Stern. There is a major issue in terms of rehabilitation and trying to get some accreditation in a way that is rigidly rigorous. There is also the issue of achieving good academic standards, good scrutiny and, I hope, peer group assessment. I shall have to go into that further and I shall write to the noble Baroness as she asked me five specific questions to which she deserves answers.
Over the same period—from 1996/97 to the present time—the rate of positive drug tests has been halved, which is a success. Drug testing is taking place over the weekends and not just on weekdays. There has been an improvement in security. Escapes from prison establishments have been cut from 232 in 1992 to 11 last year. There is also a new strategy to prevent suicides that will target efforts where the risks are greatest. I have already said that several millions of pounds are being put into that effort this year.
Nevertheless, that is only a start; there is a great deal more to be done. This afternoon noble Lords have highlighted a number of instances in which inspection reports and other matters have revealed serious short-comings in conditions for prisoners. Establishments such as Brixton and Feltham continue to give cause for concern. That has to be addressed. Within the past year, Winson Green in Birmingham received what has been described as its worst inspection report ever.
There are serious concerns about some of our prisons, but there is an attempt within the Prison Service, led by the Director General and his staff, to raise the game. There is a repertoire of good practice and there are success stories in many prisons but that has to be shared around the rest of the country. Where the examples of Leeds, Wormwood Scrubs and Werrington have led, Birmingham, Brinsford and others can follow. I know that failure makes better news than success, but the Prison Service has to prove that it cart turn failure into success.
We also need to be realistic. Turning around a large prison population with problems is a massive task and it will not be achieved overnight. The Government have provided significant resources. I have not gone into the statistics but under the recent spending review several hundred millions of pounds have gone towards making a serious impact on the prison estate. We have made it clear that inadequate conditions cannot 1156 continue and Ministers have given every encouragement and support to those running the Prison Service.
I end as I began with Sir David Ramsbotham's comment in his speech a few weeks ago that at the end of last month he had had three of the most positive experiences of his whole time as Chief Inspector. He had inspected three establishments, Brinsford, Chelmsford and Stoke Heath, all of which he had condemned a year before.
Progress is being made and we have to ensure that the same happens to the other prisons which have been given bad reports as we have achieved for those three prisons in the past year.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hurd of Westwell
My Lords, it would be silly of me to try to embroider the debate after we have heard so many speeches that have covered such a wide area. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cope for what he said. It was significant and welcome. I hope that it will be noted that this debate is taking place in official Conservative time, for which I am grateful.
On the wholly disarming speech of the Minister, there is a constitutional point in the background with which we are all familiar. Constantly in this House—this point was raised in the Royal Commission but the suggestions put forward have not yet been acted upon—a Minister replies to a debate on a subject with which he does not deal with day by day, and we put up with it. Ministers in that position have two techniques open to them. Someone as agile as the Minister could perfectly well settle for spending an hour on the brief, turning it into plain English and retreating to his cubby-hole as quickly as he can. The Chief Whip is here so I will not name names, but there have been Ministers who have adopted that technique and got away with it.
It is quite clear that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is not going to do that. He is visiting prisons; he is going to soak himself in the subject; he will go to the policy meetings and he will make a nuisance of himself, I hope. On past form, he is perfectly capable of doing that. Everyone in this House will welcome that. If that is to be his role, the least we can do is to be his critics from time to time but I hope that he will also treat us as his allies. There is plenty of material and ammunition lying around as a result of this debate.
I shall not summarise the points. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, raised a specific matter about the 18 to 20 year-olds, which is a crucial point. I did not mention women and the Wedderburn report because I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Acton, would do so, although I would have done if I had had more time. My noble friend Lord Chadlington spoke about drugs, as did the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham.
If the Minister is wise he will learn a little bit of the history—but not too much. We have had a debate in the House on the Blantyre House affair, organised by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, and it was the subject of an extraordinary Select Committee report in the other place. It is 1157 extraordinary how such a situation could have happened. It is like a group of medieval barons who decide to raid the castle of a fellow baron, and all that in the Prison Service. It is worth looking into that and into one or two other episodes that were touched upon to see how they could have happened to ensure that they do not happen again.
I hope that the point made by the Minister is one that he really believes because it goes to the heart of what this House is about. Every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate has spoken from direct personal involvement and, as the Minister said, that is not the case in the other place. The House of Commons is not constituted like that any more; it used to be, but it is not now. If the right reverend Prelate will forgive me, the Minister is surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. I hope that he will make good use of that. Those who have spoken in this debate are the realists. Often we are accused of having our heads up in the air and knowing nothing about the subject, but the people who are unreal and who have their heads in the air are the polemicists and the politicians who bang on about punishment and crime without knowing the first thing about prisons.
If he will accept noble Lords as critics and as allies—this subject will not go away—he will be useful to the House and maybe we can be useful to him. In my view there is no subject on which it is more important that the House should operate in this way than the one that we have just discussed. I am most grateful for this opportunity and to all those who have spoken. I am also grateful to my noble friend and to the Minister for the way in which he has responded. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.