HL Deb 28 June 2004 vol 663 cc7-10

3.5 p.m.

Lord Avebury

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they will take to ensure that recommendations made by the Chief Inspector of Prisons are implemented promptly.

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

My Lords, all prisons, public and contracted, and immigration removal centres produce action plans following inspections based on the recommendations of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. Ministers see the original plan and receive an update 12 months after publication. The system generally works well and the vast majority of recommendations are accepted and acted upon.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I note that the vast majority of the chief inspector's recommendations are implemented between one inspection and the next. However, have Ministers analysed the reasons for the failures such as that at Lindholme, where the chief inspector had to repeat 57 of the recommendations that she had made on her previous visit, or at Styal, the women's prison, where six suicides occurred due to drug-related causes after the chief inspector had recommended the introduction of a detoxification regime? How can such situations be allowed to continue for as long as 18 months between one inspection and the next?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, such recommendations are taken very seriously indeed. However, there are significant situations both in Lindholme and in Styal. Noble Lords will know that Lindholme, for instance, is both a prison and a removal centre which share the same site. That inevitably creates difficulties. Following the recent findings of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, we are concerned to ensure that we address all those issues, and I can tell the noble Lord that they are being addressed. He will also know that there were resource issues in setting up the detoxification unit at Styal. Although some problems remain, I am assured that Styal is improving. I pay tribute to the staff there who have been working so hard to ensure that the needs of those women are being met.

Lord Acton

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Chief Inspector of Prisons is doing an admirable job? Can she say whether there are any plans either to change or to merge her job?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am very happy to agree with my noble friend that the chief inspector does an excellent job. There are no plans to change the nature of the job that she currently performs.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, what steps have been taken or are being taken to address the criticism of the Immigration Service by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, in her 2002–03 report, in which she described its attitude towards arrangements for repatriating foreign nationals who have served their prison sentences as "dilatory"?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Government have taken those recommendations very seriously indeed. There have been reviews of how those matters are dealt with. As the noble Viscount will know, there are plans to cease using the provision at Lindholme—to return to that issue—as soon as reasonably practicable. As soon as the estate elsewhere can cope with those who are currently at Lindholme we will make arrangements for them to be moved.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, can my noble friend say why in every circumstance the Prison Service is given 12 months to implement the chief inspector's recommendations? Would it not make better sense to grade the recommendations so that those that can be implemented more easily are given a shorter period and a real spotlight is put on those that can be put right in less than 12 months? Can she also tell us what is the period between the chief inspector submitting the report and its publication?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, taking the last matter first, noble Lords will know that in the past it used to take anything up to a year to have such reports published. It now takes about 15 weeks, which is a great deal more speedy. The most important recommendations are dealt with quickly on a priority basis. It is right to remember that of all the recommendations made in her most recent annual report, the chief inspector said: In spite of overcrowding, follow-up inspections of 22 prisons last year showed that they had been able to achieve, wholly of in part, 1500 of our recommendations for change". So, there is an acceptance by the chief inspector that real energy and success is coming from the recommendations.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, does the Minister accept that 12 to 18 months, from the time of inspection to that of implementation, is a long time? Will she consider the need to make the independent monitoring board—the former board of visitors—responsible for monitoring progress, particularly in the discipline and control of our prisons?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. However, I think it would be unfair to say that 12 to 18 months is the norm; as he will know, that has been the exception rather than the norm. The issue clearly needs to be addressed and I will take the noble Lord's suggestion into consideration.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, perhaps I may revert to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Acton. The Government told us some time ago that they were conducting a review of all five of the criminal justice inspections. Does the Minister's answer to the noble Lord, Lord Acton, mean that they have decided that there will be no change at least in the status, independence and authority that the Chief Inspector of Prisons and her team possess?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have tried to make it absolutely clear that even if there is to be a change in the number of inspectorates, the role performed by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons is critical. Any replacement will not undermine the nature, extent or efficacy of that inspection.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, will the Minister tell us which recommendations in the past 12 months were not carried through because of lack of resources?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am not able to give the noble and learned Lord a detailed exposition, save to say that there were resource implications, for instance, in implementing a new system for detoxification at Styal. That took a little time, but, as your Lordships will know, the resources were considerable and the Government addressed the matter as quickly and effectively as possible.