HL Deb 08 January 2004 vol 657 cc247-9

Baroness Howe of Idlicote asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the Children's Society report Playing the Game on the experiences of young black men in custody.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the Prison Service is fully committed to tackling all aspects of racism and is concerned by the findings of this report. It accepts fully that there are improvements still to be made in many areas of race relations practice. A comprehensive joint action plan to combat all aspects of racism has recently been agreed between the Prison Service and the CRE.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that encouraging reply. However, does she agree with me that, given that the 45 black young people interviewed were all preselected by the three institutions visited, is it not likely that the findings of that report are but a tip of a very unpleasant iceberg? Can the Minister give the House more detail about what the Government will do to protect young people in custody from intolerable racist treatment of this kind? Will she reassure your Lordships that young people will be better informed about their rights, about the existence of the race relations officer and about the process for making complaints without them being further victimised, and above all that police officers are regularly retrained on required behaviour?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I say straight away that, as I said before, the research is very worrying. We do not know the basis upon which the young people were preselected. The research upon which the Children's Society's findings were based has not as yet been disclosed to the Prison Service. That is a matter of real importance. I certainly assure the noble Baroness that we have taken steps to ensure that prisoners are able to complain much more easily than has been the case hitherto. The forms are available. A box is placed at the end of a corridor. Prisoners take the forms, which are subsequently placed in sealed containers so that no one can interfere with them. We take these incidents very seriously indeed and we vigorously pursue the issue of racism in our institutions.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, will the Minister give the House specific guidance on what the Government are doing to make the Prison Service have regard to its anti-racism staff training?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, training has been a very important part of the Prison Service's work. There has been clear leadership on the matter. We have a very diverse workforce. Board members and area managers were trained jointly in June 2001. The existing training for the race relations liaison officers and the race relations management teams was overhauled in 2000 to make it more focused on management. Since October 2001, the initial training for all prison officers has included a minimum of four hours on race issues, made possible by removing previous training in drill. Training for all other staff has been developed using external expertise. Entry training for officers now has a dedicated module. There has been a total review and there is commitment. I reassure noble Lords that these matters were audited. The ratings demonstrate major improvements over time. From 2002 to date there is a 96 per cent acceptable or better scoring for the establishments, which is a major improvement from the position in 1996–97 when they scored 84 per cent.

Lord McNally

My Lords, although the Minister's expressions of confidence are reassuring, is not the brutal fact that this report is realism in counterpoint to the optimism of the Statement made two days ago on managing offenders? Is she really confident that there is not institutionalised racism in the Prison Service? Will the Minister give figures on the recruitment of' black prison officers? If we are to get to the root of the matter, officers from the ethnic communities must work in the new National Offender Management Service and voluntary organisations must participate so that this kind of charge cannot be levelled against the new service. Will she assure us that this is an "action this day" matter for Martin Narey and the new service?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord that it is very much part of the Government's objective to ensure that we have a more diverse workforce. The figures and the report are not the antidote to what we discussed two days ago; they go hand in hand. We must put in place both measures. We have had great success in improving diversity in our workforce with a robust recruitment programme backed by a series of outreach events. We have significantly bettered targets set by the Home Secretary. In 1998–99 the figure for ethnic minority staff was 3.2 per cent. The figure for 2001–02 was 4.9 per cent. There has been a massive improvement in relation to recruitment. I wish to make it clear that we think that more needs to be done. We are on our way but we can do better.

Lord Laming

My Lords, will the Minister give the House an assurance that taking these matters seriously— I absolutely accept her statement in that regard includes following proper disciplinary procedures and making clear that managers have a responsibility to ensure that people who behave in this way are subject to disciplinary procedures?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I absolutely accept that that is right.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, knowing that the reoffending rate is disproportionately high among young black people, does the Minister give her support to such initiatives as the resettlement programme to be launched by the Feltham chaplaincy next week? In such ways will the Minister encourage all those disturbed by the Children's Society report to get involved themselves with positive action for young black people?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I wholeheartedly endorse that. The incidents of racism have been very disturbing and the resettlement issues incredibly important. We very much support such initiatives.

Lord Elton

My Lords, on Tuesday the Minister repeated a Statement announcing a single service to manage offenders. What proportion of adult black prisoners have previously been convicted and served custodial sentences? As juveniles are not covered by the new single service, how will the management of those children be made consonant with what is to follow when they are adults?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the figures collated are not collated in a way that would enable us to give an answer on the first issue. We are making sure that we adopt a holistic approach to the management of offenders generally, be they minors or adults. The whole purpose of the changes that we are bringing about is to enable that synergy to take place. It is a challenging agenda, but one that we now believe that we have the tools to address, and there is the commitment to do it.

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