UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 184-i

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

JUSTICE COMMITTEE

 

 

TOWARDS EFFECTIVE SENTENCING

 

 

Wednesday 12 December 2007

LORD CARTER OF COLES

ANNE OWERS CBE, ANDREW BRIDGES CBE, PAUL TIDBALL and JULIET LYON

Evidence heard in Public Questions 266 - 389

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Justice Committee

on Wednesday 12 December 2007

Members present

Mr Alan Beith, in the Chair

Alun Michael

Julie Morgan

Dr Nick Palmer

Mr Virendra Sharma

Mr Andrew Tyrie

Dr Alan Whitehead

________________

Witness: Lord Carter of Coles, a Member of the House of Lords, gave evidence.

Q266 Chairman: Lord Carter, you are very welcome to give evidence to us. You have been before us but in a different capacity and on a different subject. Does this not feel a bit like Groundhog Day? We did all this in 1973.

Lord Carter of Coles: Yes, but I think the problem did not go away.

Q267 Chairman: Why did it not go away?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think for a number of reasons. I hope we come back to the issue of sentencing and the whole idea of the Sentencing Commission. It may have helped if we had gone on to that earlier. I think that a number of things happened in a sense on the demand side, people were recalled and things like that. If we look at the graphs in the report, we can see that demand rose between 2003 and 2007.

Q268 Chairman: Who did you consult before compiling your report?

Lord Carter of Coles: As you know, it was announced in Parliament in June. Obviously we were doing the review, it was in the public domain. We consulted with a large number of people. We heard submissions from various organisations that came forward and spoke to us. We spoke to a lot of people. We travelled up and down the country looking in prisons at what was going on. So I think we covered the ground.

Q269 Chairman: There is not a list in the report, is there?

Lord Carter of Coles: No, but if you would like that I am sure we could send it to you.

Q270 Chairman: Yes, we would like to see that. There is not a volume two. What was the evidence on which you based both the statistics and the wider observations that you made in the report?

Lord Carter of Coles: The first key piece of evidence is the forecast of the demand for prison places. Obviously the government has produced that and it is published all the time, it is an ongoing document. What we were very keen to do was to validate that to make sure that we understood what lay behind those assumptions. I think it is page 42 of our report that tracks the history of our ability to forecast the prison population. There have been differences at certain times and difficulties in that. It is not an exact science because events occur and come along and drive up demand for prison places, but we did look at that. That was a piece of evidence on the demand side; we relied on those things. We had to make the decision as to whether we try and spend a lot of money building an independent forecast and we interrogated the one that existed and we were happy to take the most realistic, we believed, of those.

Q271 Chairman: What about the supply side?

Lord Carter of Coles: On the supply side, what we were anxious to do in the short term was to validate the building programme that is going on at the moment, would it be delivered in time, when would it be delivered, because clearly the timing of that would be absolutely fundamental to meeting the demand. So we spent a lot of time checking that. We got some independent help in to verify some of those building programmes to make sure they were being delivered. Then in the medium term we looked at what was already in train, what could be used in terms of overcrowding, what could be used in terms of prison cells and we worked our way through to see what gap emerged and what would need to be done if supply was to meet the demands that were going to be put upon it.

Q272 Mr Tyrie: On this validation question and looking at Annex A, it is one and a half pages of so-called validation, do you think perhaps it might have been a good idea to consult more widely on the way these statistics are put together before concluding that these demand projections are definitely correct? In other words, how convinced can we be that you have so thoroughly analysed this question that we now know that further growth in the prison population along the lines put into this report are inevitable?

Lord Carter of Coles: First of all, I do not think we can be certain because of events. If you look at the demand for prison places, events occur which actually increase that demand in an unforeseen way. If we go back to the Bulger boys for instance, there was a moment after that when demand for prison places rose steeply and if you look at the graph you see that it does occur. That is without the range of normal forecasting. We really looked at this and we were anxious to know whether this very complex model for forecasting demand had a good record and that is why on page 42 we set this out. A key issue in our working group was how good these forecasts were and if we could rely upon them because we are basing a lot on it. I think our conclusion was that these were as good as we could get.

Q273 Mr Tyrie: Did you take evidence from people who dissented or who might dissent from the way this is put together?

Lord Carter of Coles: No, we did not and nobody came forward and offered us a case on that.

Q274 Mr Tyrie: If one concludes that then I suppose one is thrown back to the position that you and Jack Straw have both taken, which is that we have now got to do much more prison building. Is it not really more of the same?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think we have to look at the short-, medium- and long-term issues. I suspect none of us want to build prisons continually, I do not think anybody would believe that is the answer to these problems, but we have short- and medium-term issues which we have to deal with in the sense, above all, of maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system. What we then do in the longer term is the critical issue facing everybody and that is why we are recommending a Sentencing Commission that is looked at very closely because I think we very firmly believe that only in getting sentencing right can you control the issue.

Q275 Mr Tyrie: Once you accept that we are going to have higher demand, once you are accepting these forecasts and once you are accepting most of the other points that are already in your report, one is basically saying we are going to have a similar policy to the policy we have been pursuing for the last ten years.

Lord Carter of Coles: I would hope that would not be the case.

Q276 Mr Tyrie: How is it going to change?

Lord Carter of Coles: Because I think the only way to change it is really through the behaviour of sentences and that has to be something that is arrived at in a consensus between the judiciary and the government and, to a degree, the public.

Q277 Mr Tyrie: I used the phrase more of the same because that was Lord Ramsbotham's own phrase. Perhaps I should read what he said and just ask you to comment on it, "... more of the same unnecessary, expensive incarceration, whether in old, small or new monster prisons, will only produce more of the same failure." Do you agree with that?

Lord Carter of Coles: It is the alternatives we have to consider. I do not think anybody wants to continue to build prisons willy-nilly, that is not the answer to this, but we have to look at what we are going to do in the short term. The judiciary has independency of sentences and I think there is a public recognition that the government has a duty to produce the places that sentences demand; that is how it has always worked. Therefore, we have to face that and get on with that, but we have to have a longer-term strategy to take account of how we actually get some balance between the demand and the supply.

Q278 Mr Tyrie: My related concern is this is £1.2 billion of public expenditure being added with what I feel, and I think many people might feel, is something, as the Chairman implied a moment ago, well short of a thorough public debate about how best to allocate the money. Do you feel that there may be some sensitivity about that?

Lord Carter of Coles: I welcome public debate and I think that is what we are calling for around sentencing and I think that is the critical thing in this report. We have to have a public debate around that, but in the meantime the existing system is that sentences are independent and they will sentence as they see fit and I think we have to provide those places. That is where we are.

Q279 Chairman: What is the evidence that a sentencing framework would restrain the growth in the prison population?

Lord Carter of Coles: Where we have seen this work in North America it is constrained. In one state it certainly flattened or reduced it, which was North Carolina. In the State of Minnesota it made sentencing more predictable and it enabled governments to plan. I think one of the keys in this is that predictability you get from this. The prison population can rise if that is what the political and the popular will is, but it can also be contained and they would have to have a mechanism to do that. We have seen it work. I think in any area where, if you like, the criminal justice system has been politicised in a sense and the debate has taken place about sentencing, et cetera, this has been found to be the best way. In contrast, in the State of California, which has no Sentencing Commission, although they were discussing one, the prison population has continued to rise very steeply.

Q280 Chairman: We already have a Sentencing Advisory Panel and a Sentencing Guidelines Council to adopt sentencing guidelines on an incremental basis. Do you envisage that these two bodies will continue, that the Sentencing Commission will sit over the top of all this or what?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think that is what we would like to see come out of the consultation. What the actual structure is like and how this should best work is really between the judiciary and the government, but whether it is one organisation overall with these under it or one supporting the other, I would not have a view yet until those discussions have taken place and the consultation has taken place.

Q281 Chairman: Both you and the Lord Chancellor have stressed that the constraints on the prison population are not going to determine what sentence a judge gives in an individual case. How does the judge sitting on the bench or a magistrate sitting on the bench feel restrained, restricted or guided in the process that you envisage?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think what we are envisaging is a much clearer set of guidelines, a much more comprehensive set with things a great deal clearer. Sentencing in this country has grown up over the years on a sort of accretive basis. I think what we are looking for is to start from the ground up and actually to go through the whole thing and have a comprehensive system, with the relativities being correct and the guidelines being very clear and things like mitigating circumstances being very clear and laid out in this form.

Q282 Chairman: When the judge or the magistrate is passing a sentence within the framework, is it related to the available number of prison places or is it something greater than the mere framework? If it is just a framework then obviously the magistrate might feel, because of the circumstances of the case, that he has to go to the upper end of the range and so may the judge.

Lord Carter of Coles: The key to the system is judicial discretion and you have to build that in. So it is a framework, as it says, it is not prescriptive. The key for us is to get transparency and consistency into sentencing right the way across the country. There are always going to be local variations and mitigating circumstances which the judiciary must feel free to factor in when they sentence.

Q283 Dr Whitehead: In your report you have recognised that the building programme that you advocate is not likely to be effective before 2010 and you have posed a number of short- and medium-term measures which manage demand during that period. You suggest reform of indeterminate and extended sentences, reform of Bail Act legislation, credit for defendants complying with the terms of curfew and so on and you estimate that the effect of those measures before 2010 would reduce demand by about 3,500/4,500 places. How do you arrive at that figure?

Lord Carter of Coles: By actually looking at those people who are already in the system. In the case of IPPs for instance, looking at the number of people who are in under four years/two years tariff, doing some calculations around those. I think we can get to all the groups - we are very careful about this - of people who have been tagged, we have the numbers for those and we can see what the effect of that would be. We broke them out class by class and worked our way through that. Trying to get some accuracy with that was quite critical to us. There are always movements at the margin in these things, but I think we believe we have got it pretty right.

Q284 Dr Whitehead: Under the circumstances of that demand management idea the question of timeframe is fairly critical as well, is it not?

Lord Carter of Coles: Yes.

Q285 Dr Whitehead: What would you say is the timeframe for implementing the measures that you have set out, and how will they relate to the idea that they have to be in place before 2010 in order to be there before the new prisons are completed?

Lord Carter of Coles: Obviously there will be legislation needed. Some of those measures were already going through as part of the legislation. Obviously they will need to be in the legislative programme next year if this is to be effective and we would factor that in in the timing of that, but ultimately it depends on the legislation getting through.

Q286 Dr Whitehead: Have you been able to break down the overall figure that you are recommending into how each of the different measures that you are recommending would affect numbers?

Lord Carter of Coles: We have an estimate on that and if you wish to see that I could happily share that with you.

Q287 Dr Whitehead: The Committee would be very grateful to be able to see that. Bearing in mind the possible variances in those figures, I guess between the various numbers, would you say all those measures that you recommend would have to be taken in order to prevent an overcrowding crisis before 2010 or is there a greater priority on certain measures and lesser priority on others?

Lord Carter of Coles: The situation is so tight that we need all those measures.

Q288 Dr Whitehead: Nevertheless, in Jack Straw's statement of 5 December he only committed to changes in IPP legislation and the aligning of the sentence regime of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. What is your view of the extent to which that will deliver the reduction of demand? Are you perhaps already disappointed that other measures, which you say have to be in place by next year, appear to be slow in coming forward?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think that is something you would have to ask the government. We are clear about what needs to be done to get the supply and demand matched. Obviously we would like to see those measures come forward. If they do not then there will be a gap which someone will have to consider how to fill.

Q289 Dr Whitehead: Those measures that you have mentioned are described as short to medium-term measures and they have to be fulfilled pretty early on in order to avoid a crisis of a gap, but in your report you have institutionalised the Early Release Scheme by suggesting that the Early Release Scheme would, in your calculations, continue indefinitely. Does that not just effectively declare sentences to be shorter?

Lord Carter of Coles: Yes, I think that is right and I think that is the critical issue for us, that we have to be sure that in a sense we do not have a tough front door sentencing policy and a weak back door policy.

Q290 Chairman: Could you say that a little more loudly, please?

Lord Carter of Coles: Yes. I think we have to be absolutely clear that we do not have a tough front door sentencing policy and a weak back door where people are let out. The whole idea of a Sentencing Commission is to make sure that the integrity of the criminal justice system is maintained by people serving the sentences they are given, and our belief is very clearly that we should get it right at the front, not at the back.

Q291 Dr Whitehead: Is the idea of regarding the Early Release Scheme as permanent not in effect a weak back door scheme?

Lord Carter of Coles: Yes, but that is the reality and I think that is why we need to build these places, to ensure that that can be withdrawn and the transparency of the whole situation restored, absolutely.

Q292 Dr Whitehead: Do you not consider that if you have effectively declared or are recommending that the Early Release Scheme is declared as a permanent scheme that then sets a new end date for sentences and that as a contingency, therefore, it would be possible to say let us have another 15 days of a sentence so that you have an earlier release and an earlier release and the early release is no longer the early release by the time a new contingency scheme might be considered?

Lord Carter of Coles: There are always various options about releasing people early in different ways. I think the real question for me is how do you look beyond that and create a system that does not make that necessary, as I say, and to deal with it at the front.

Q293 Dr Palmer: Let me clarify a couple of points about the Early Release Scheme. If I have understood your responses to Dr Whitehead, what you are actually saying is that the End of Custody License scheme should continue as a short to medium-term measure until the other effects kick in. You are not actually recommending that it be a permanent feature of the landscape.

Lord Carter of Coles: No, absolutely. It should continue until we can get the capacity and/or a Sentencing Commission is adopted which, as I say, deals with it at the front end.

Q294 Dr Palmer: There is some public confusion between these different concepts. Could I clarify whether you accept the general principle that prisoners should be released on licence well before the end of their sentence and then recalled if they re-offend because there are many members of the public who think that if you have been sentenced to four years you should serve four years? There is a consensus that in practice you will want to release them before that and see how they manage in the community.

Lord Carter of Coles: I think that is right. The sort of sentence and then the sort of period served in custody and the period under licence works well because it gives an incentive to prisoners and it lets the Prison Service manage prisoners whilst they are in. There are all those considerations. I think that is quite an effective system and I see no reason to suggest any changes to that.

Q295 Dr Palmer: You are not opposed to early release as part of a planned programme; you merely feel that it should be phased out as an emergency measure for managing prisons, is that right?

Lord Carter of Coles: Exactly.

Q296 Dr Whitehead: For the sake of clarify, could I just refer to Annex A of your report where you state, "The Review has also assumed in its modeling that the end of custody licensing scheme continues indefinitely. This results in a prison population of approximately 1,000-1,500 places lower than that projected in the government's published projections." Does that not suggest that this is not a suggested phased measure but actually would be a permanent feature of prison population numbers?

Lord Carter of Coles: An assumption for modeling is a different matter to an assumption for a policy.

Q297 Chairman: If you are making that modeling assumption then you would have to change your prison building figures or some other aspect of your proposals to make your proposals fit the model you have worked out.

Lord Carter of Coles: I think our objective must be that through a Sentencing Commission we can actually start to at least flatten the demand for prison places.

Q298 Chairman: But you have already built that in.

Lord Carter of Coles: No, we have not done that. This continues without the effect of the Commission. We believe that if it is the will of the government and Parliament to take that forward with the judiciary then so be it, but we have not factored anything into that at all. That would be, we hope, the way through that question.

Q299 Alun Michael: I just want to focus on one specific point when it comes to dealing with Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection. You say in Annex E quite specifically, "The Review and NOMS have jointly developed proposals that will mean the trigger offence must reach a reasonable seriousness threshold. They will allow sentencers much greater discretion about when to give an IPP; those who do merit an IPP will continue to get one." Could you give us a crisp and precise summary of those proposals, please?

Lord Carter of Coles: What we are recommending is that where the sentence is four years and under, ie two years tariff, we believe that there should not be an IPP except in exceptional circumstances. The judiciary can still give an IPP if they wish, but we believe that under four years it has not worked as I think it was intended to work and therefore it is something which should be discontinued.

Q300 Alun Michael: I want to get that clear because that was not crisp and precise in my terms. You are saying you would do away with that consideration under four years but the judiciary can still use it if they want to, is that right?

Lord Carter of Coles: Yes.

Q301 Alun Michael: And you consider that to be clear?

Lord Carter of Coles: It is the question of judicial discretion. I think that would be clear to the judiciary.

Q302 Alun Michael: It sounds like a sort of crude tariff which cuts out the period under four years rather than having anything to do with an assessment of dangerousness.

Lord Carter of Coles: I do not agree with that. What we understood was that the judiciary felt that under four years was not working. There was a general sense it was not working as it had been intended. Our proposals, therefore, just deal with that point.

Q303 Alun Michael: What do you mean when you say not working as intended?

Lord Carter of Coles: There was one report where the determinate sentence was 28 days. Okay, but the person had been in for a substantial period of time. I do not think anybody believed that was working correctly. So it was those short sentences with an IPP attached to them where I think people were finding the law was not intended to work like that and that is why we are proposing this.

Q304 Alun Michael: Is that not because there is a marginal tariff change to a sentence rather than a question of an assessment of risk?

Lord Carter of Coles: I do not think I see that, no.

Q305 Chairman: Did you take any evidence about whether it was proving possible either to carry out the assessments as to the dangerousness of a prisoner or to put in place the programmes which would qualify the prisoner for the release?

Lord Carter of Coles: Yes, we did. Clearly there is an issue around that in that people were not being processed as quickly as they might expect to be.

Q306 Chairman: Or indeed as the sentence assumed they would be.

Lord Carter of Coles: Exactly.

Q307 Alun Michael: I am not quite clear about what the result of those proposals will be. Could we go back to exactly what the proposals that are referred to in Annex E are? Is it effectively that Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection would only apply where the sentence is over four years?

Lord Carter of Coles: That would be the presumption, but that actually there still remains judicial discretion. If they thought the case warranted it they could still give an IPP under four years.

Q308 Alun Michael: What sort of things would make them think it was correct to do that?

Lord Carter of Coles: The evidence before them in the case.

Q309 Alun Michael: Evidence of what?

Lord Carter of Coles: Evidence from the pre-sentence report and all the things they draw upon to make that decision.

Q310 Alun Michael: I am just not clear whether the option is there or not at the end of the day. It sounds as if there is pressure not to use it but it is there if you really insist.

Lord Carter of Coles: I think it has been the other way around, that there was a pressure to use it where the judiciary did not want to. What this is seeking to do is to reverse that pressure but still leave the option there if they wish to use it.

Q311 Alun Michael: I thought the judiciary was supposed to be objective in the decisions they take. I think we have reached as far as we can, but I think it would be helpful to have a clear statement of what these proposals are.

Lord Carter of Coles: We will certainly let you have that if we may.

Chairman: Would you like to go on to Bail Act issues.

Q312 Alun Michael: You have recommended limiting the remand population through the changes to the Bail Act and also that deducting time spent outside prison under certain bail conditions from the final custodial sentence. You have also voiced support for a restriction on the availability of community orders for low-level offences in favour of fines. As we understand it there has not been a comment yet from the Government on this. Are you confident that those proposals will be implemented?

Lord Carter of Coles: Nor have I had a comment either so I could not comment on that, I am afraid.

Q313 Alun Michael: Right and there is nothing in your Report about the unimplemented sentencing options of Custody Plus and Intermittent Custody which have been on the statute book since 2003. What is your view of that?

Lord Carter of Coles: They were on the statute book, they were not changes that I was looking at any changes to.

Q314 Alun Michael: They are not ones that you regard as being relevant?

Lord Carter of Coles: Because we were not recommending any changes to those.

Q315 Chairman: They are on the statute book but they have not been put into force so I was slightly surprised that you did not have a view as to whether they would be helpful to your plan or should be left on the shelf?

Lord Carter of Coles: I have to say to you I did not look at them.

Q316 Mr Sharma: In your report you hinted at the necessity of the Government resorting to the contingency measures to address prison overcrowding in 2008. What kind of measures were you thinking of? How likely do you think it is that these measures will have to be taken in the very short term?

Lord Carter of Coles: As I was saying earlier, the pressures on the prison system at this moment are acute and whether or not any other measures would need to be taken is difficult to say. Obviously it would be up to the Government what those measures would have to be if they had to be taken, so one cannot rule it out. I think the pressure will remain intense for some time to come but the measures, as I say, will have to be something the Government would decide from the various things.

Q317 Chairman: You do not say anything much about the Probation Service which we all understand to be in an over-stretched situation, both outside the prisons and indeed in its work inside the prisons. Have you given any thought to that?

Lord Carter of Coles: My terms of reference, Chairman, were pretty and it did not really include the Probation Service in that. I was just very focused on the question of prison and prison places.

Q318 Dr Palmer: The Ministry of Justice has acknowledged that it does not hold centrally information on the number of life prisoners, IPP prisoners and prisoners on indeterminate sentences held beyond the expiry of their tariff. How can we get remotely sensible resource allocation planning when we do not have that basic information?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think information in the prison system is one of the issues. I do think it needs to be clearer so we can make these resource allocations, it is something that does need to be attended to.

Q319 Dr Palmer: Do you have a view yourself from the investigations that you have made on whether a large proportion of life prisoners and IPP prisoners are held beyond the expiry of their tariff or is it your impression that the prisons are basically letting them out as quickly as soon as the tariff comes up.

Lord Carter of Coles: I would not like to express a view because I have not looked at it in enough detail to give you an informed answer, I am afraid.

Q320 Alun Michael: Let me put it the other way round, do you think that it would be sensible in view of prison overcrowding for a default assumption, if you like, that unless there are good reasons to the contrary when the tariff is reached a period of early release should be tried.

Lord Carter of Coles: Oh yes, that should be the case, yes.

Chairman: Let us turn to very large prisons and Dr Whitehead.

Q321 Dr Whitehead: The bottom line you might say of your report is that you consider that three so-called Titan prisons should be built close to the population areas with the highest demand, as it were, for prison places. These type of prison, I think of about 2,500, are not just larger than existing prisons but larger by a huge leap. I think there are only five prisons with only just over 1,000 certified normal capacity in existence at present, so it is an enormous increase in size. What was the reaction of the prison governors, prison officers and prison inspectors to those proposals when you consulted them about it?

Lord Carter of Coles: We talked to the management of the Prison Service about that and we believe in our conversation with them that such a prison as we are proposing could deliver a good regime, could be efficient and could be managed. We did not consult the Chief Inspector on that matter but you will be hearing evidence from her, but we talked to the people who operate them and have the experience of operating prisons every day, and we are satisfied that it could be done.

Q322 Dr Whitehead: I think there is a difference between 'could be done' and perhaps 'should be done'. The Director of the Prison Reform Trust recently stated "looking at prison overcrowding as a storage problem is as flawed as adding an extra lane to a motorway to ease congestion." Do you think that the warehousing of prisoners, as it has been described, goes against the grain of perhaps providing more for prisoners regionally or even locally and therefore improving strategic geographic delivery, putting these Titan prisons close to large populations in a sense cements a non-regional local basis of the prison population, does it not?

Lord Carter of Coles: I do not think that is the case. If we take these various regions, take London specifically, London exports 9,400 prisoners at the current time so there are 9,400 people stuck in vans, taken out of London and driven up motorways a long way away, with all the attendant problems for their families. If you walk the landings as I have down in the course of this review, and I have spoken to prisoners, and I have asked them what their concerns are time and time again, closeness to home, proximity, is the recurring theme. In fact, in one conversation I asked a group of prisoners whether if they were moved from a large urban local to a more remote prison but could have a single cell, would they prefer to be doubled up or would they like to go into single accommodation some miles away and the universal response always is I would rather stay here, I am closer to where I come from, et cetera. I think one of the key things that we need to get in the changes we would like to bring about is moving prisons closer to where prisoners come from. Therefore I see a very strong case for building a significantly sized, up to I think the key words are 2,500 placed prison, certainly London could do with two of those. If you look at travel times in London, the quality of public transport, people can get around, they can visit, it seems to me much more

Likely that we could get the planning to build one large prison than probably five small ones, and therefore proximity and the quality of the prisoner experience, in my belief, the proximity issue would be addressed. How you organised the prison within that - and my belief is that you could easily have five different prisons because the efficiencies of a prison arise from things like the gatehouse and they arise from the catering arrangements, et cetera, but I see no reason why we should not have five separate units dealing with different types of prisoners because prisoners are not homogenous and we have different grades of prisoner and we need to categorise that prisoner within the prison, I believe that the Prison Service could actually supply a high degree of quality within a building like that and I would not have recommended it if I did not believe that was the case. I think there is a quite a compelling argument to move these close to people. What I do not advocate is building a 2,500 place Dartmoor. I think it would be madness but the case for building these close to where people come from is, I think, very, very important.

Q323 Dr Whitehead: So these are you might say department store prisons and that you have within their halls a range of different prisoner requirements?

Lord Carter of Coles: Different choices, different services, absolutely.

Q324 Dr Whitehead: Is it not then the case that with those different prisoner requirements in the walls that perhaps different analysis needs to be undertaken of what those particular requirements for those different prisoners within that department store wall, as it were, actually are. Have you conducted such an analysis particularly a strategic/geographical needs analysis so that different categories of prisoners and their geographical needs can be distinguished?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think how detailed that analysis was, if we look at the 9,400 people that are exported from London, there is a wide range of offenders, there are sex offenders, there are people in for various types of crime who need particular programmes, so I believe that we could easily find cohorts of prisoners to fit into those different departmental store departments that you are talking of.

Q325 Chairman: You have made some suggestions about the management of the prison estate, recommending reducing the number of cells out of commission, reviewing the key performance indicator on prison overcrowding and reducing service levels in prison. What do you mean by all that? It sounds very ominous from the point of view of rehabilitation?

Lord Carter of Coles: If we take those, the first point is about actually making sure that we get the right reusable cells we can. The second is how far we are prepared to voluntarily double up some of the new buildings where some of those were planned to be single cell, we should look at whether some of those could be voluntarily doubled up.

Q326 Chairman: These were not built in many cases for doubling, were they, and they have integral sanitation.

Lord Carter of Coles: I think certainly some of the new ones will be built to have enough space in them so that they are not overcrowded so they can take two people. Clearly in many cases it is desirable to keep people in single cells if we can but I think we have to work our way through that. As to the issue of programmes, and the money spent on that, I think what we need to be clear is that we are spending the money well and the whole concept of offender management was to be sure that as we reviewed the outcome of treatment programmes that they did actually contribute to reoffending and we understood better how to target the money so what I am really trying to make the point there, Chairman, is that we should be absolutely clear that we are spending the money wisely and we are not just creating programmes for the sake of them but actually these programmes are being used. It is very easy to create a programme for 30 people and only find five people on it. What we want to be sure of is that these programmes are taken up and used and above all completed.

Q327 Chairman: Is that what reduced service levels is meant to be about and not providing programmes that people do not go on?

Lord Carter of Coles: It is to actually to focus the service level, if you see what I mean, to say we are going to do this to actually spend this money wisely because we have found instances where you have 30 places in a classroom and you find they start with 15 people and by the end there is four left. Actually the whole experience was more of a diversion than a rehabilitation programme.

Q328 Chairman: It sounds like a programme that needs re-thinking?

Lord Carter of Coles: Yes.

Q329 Mr Tyrie: Just on these financial controls, you do refer to the 3% savings that the Treasury is demanding and then you go on to query both on page 21 and then later at page 36 whether how these should be achieved and whether indeed in some respects there may be more savings available. Can you say first of all do you think that the 3% is readily deliverable. Do you think more than 3% is readily deliverable? For the sake of the record, that is a yes by the way.

Lord Carter of Coles: I was going to say yes actually. On the 3%, I think there are two areas that we draw attention to. One is the headquarters costs of NOMS and the Prison Service which is significant, and we believe that there could be streamlining in there to meet some of those things. Clearly we want to see as much money as we can spent in the prison delivering programmes for prisoners to stop them reoffending. I think then if you look at the way different prisons operate, we believe that there are areas, particularly in the administration of things like prisoners' mail, prisoners' money, et cetera, where we have seen practices, admittedly with investment, in private sector prisons which actually make it more efficient.

Q330 Mr Tyrie: I have not been round a prison for a long time but when I did I was amazed to discover for example prison cells being used as offices built obviously to a very high level of security, much higher than is required for an office and evidenced savings just by walking around as somebody relatively uninformed about what was going on. I notice that in paragraph 16 on page 37 you talk about the service level agreements with public sector prisons not being on a similar footing to those that one would find in the commercial sector. I would be interested to know what estimate you would make of savings that would become available as a consequence of doing that?

Lord Carter of Coles: I would not, until the work is done, wish to put a number on that. I believe that there are savings there that are noteworthy and worth having.

Q331 Mr Tyrie: Over and above the 3%?

Lord Carter of Coles: I do believe that, I think it should be looked at because, as I say, there are inconsistencies between how various prisons are run and if we could get best practice and the Prison Service does by the way know how to do best practice in many many places; it is consistency that we would encourage further. I think it probably does need a little bit of investment in some processes to make it easier for the staff to do these things.

Q332 Mr Tyrie: Given this is a £1.2 billion programme do you not think this should be a priority seeing if we can get the estate to work more effectively?

Lord Carter of Coles: Hence the recommendation; we do believe that clearly and it is something that the Department of Justice an NOMS and the Prison Service should get to work on.

Q333 Mr Tyrie: Is there any other information in the public domain about how these savings can be achieved apart from what you have provided on pages 36 and 37?

Lord Carter of Coles: I would have to check that. I do not believe there is. It does require quite a lot of work to get at the information. It took us some time even to get this far.

Q334 Mr Tyrie: That is not very encouraging.

Lord Carter of Coles: No, but I believe, interestingly enough, in my experience we are getting somewhat closer to it than we were some years ago so I think it is going the right way, it is just a question of upping the tempo

Mr Tyrie: It sounds as if the uphill struggle that I had some knowledge of 20 years ago is still being conducted and there is a great deal to be done. I wonder whether you could provide a progress report note to the Committee on what you think should be done to cash these savings, how they should be achieved and what areas of policy might need to be amended or prison operations.

Q335 Chairman: It is not homework to be set but if you are happy to do that we would be very interested.

Lord Carter of Coles: If that is the will of the Committee certainly.

Mr Tyrie: In view of the relative paucity of background material to the report these are some of the areas where it is absolutely essential that we have further information before Parliament accepts £1.2 billion of extra expenditure.

Q336 Dr Palmer: Just in the same sense, you referred to some programmes not being very effective. You gave the example of a course for 20 people ending up just training four. At that level it sounds as though it is anecdotal. Do you have anything further to say about types of programme which you have observed quite frequently have this kind of deficiency?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think in some of the education programmes there is a question of places not being filled and, above all, courses not being completed, often as people are moved about. I think there are issues around that that need to be addressed.

Q337 Dr Palmer: So quite explicitly you would like to see either arrangements being made to ensure that prisoners can follow the entire programme or potentially the programme being dropped in favour of something more effective?

Lord Carter of Coles: Exactly so. I think what is also interesting is that the role of the offender manager in specifying and validating these programmes have been delivered, that is the critical thing; making sure that people are getting what they need and, above all, at the end of the programme two years afterwards we can measure whether or not people have stopped offending as a consequence of the large investment in the programme.

Q338 Dr Palmer: Would you go as far as to say that to some extent the programmes sometimes just go through the motions, that they are not really systemically addressing effectiveness?

Lord Carter of Coles: I think we need better evidence to prove the efficacy of programmes.

Q339 Chairman: Lord Carter, thank you very much indeed. I hope you are not expecting to return for another Groundhog Hay in two or three years' time with another report.

Lord Carter of Coles: Chairman, I certainly hope not.


Witnesses: Andrew Bridges CBE, HM Chief Inspector of Probation; Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust/Criminal Justice Alliance; Anne Owers CBE, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons; Paul Tidball, Prison Governors' Association, gave evidence.

 

Q340 Chairman: Good morning and welcome Mr Tidball, President of the Prison Governors' Association; Ms Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons; Mr Bridges, Chief Inspector of Probation; and Ms Lyon from the Prison Reform Trust. We are very glad to have you with us this morning. Which of you were consulted by Lord Carter? Nobody is volunteering.

Anne Owers: At my request I had coffee with Lord Carter on one occasion in the Treasury in July.

Q341 Mr Tyrie: This was at your request?

Anne Owers: Yes.

Juliet Lyon: At my request I had a cup of tea and a cup of coffee on two separate occasions with Lord Carter.

Q342 Chairman: Otherwise.

Paul Tidball: The PGA had an hour with Lord Carter which was a formalish hour, I think it was at his request. We managed to extract from him an interest in our putting in some written evidence after it but this particular inquiry did not formally ask for evidence in a way that I have been used to, as with effective sentencing for instance.

Q343 Mr Tyrie: When you had these cups of coffee, were they on the basis of evidence that you had submitted?

Anne Owers: No.

Q344 Mr Tyrie: Was evidence requested?

Anne Owers: No.

Q345 Mr Tyrie: Did you submit evidence?

Anne Owers: No.

Q346 Mr Tyrie: Why not?

Anne Owers: Because evidence was not requested and because actually I am producing evidence all the time every time I produce a prison report, but there was not a call for evidence in the way that there normally might be.

Q347 Chairman: Were any of the ideas that Lord Carter is developing tested out on you, like large prisons for example?

Anne Owers: No.

Q348 Alun Michael: There is not much in the Report about how to cut reoffending in order to cut the requirement for prison places. Are there any glaring omissions in the report?

Anne Owers: I think my own response is that it is disappointing. To be fair to Lord Carter one would not want to start from here, but I think what this is is a

Q349 Alun Michael: That is usually the case.

Anne Owers: This is a belated and narrow response to some of the issues that many of us have been raising for some considerable time. My fear is that what we will get is more prisoners and worse prisons, a focus on efficiency rather than effectiveness, and also a moving away of resources from those things which are currently leading to the rise in prisoner numbers, in other words things like the over-stretched Probation Service, the under-funded mental health services, the kind of things that Baroness Corston thinks are necessary for women and the kinds of support that are needed for those with complex needs coming out of prison. I would have preferred to see a more transparent and broader inquiry. I think it is a missed opportunity to do something like Lord Wolff did 15 years ago which would have allowed all these issues to be fed in and a public debate about what kind of penal policy we want.

Juliet Lyon: I absolutely agree with the Chief Inspector and I think the Government had an opportunity in 2002 when the Social Exclusion Unit presented a report to the Prime Minister which made it abundantly clear that the solutions to preventing reoffending did not lie as was then in the Home Office and as now in the Ministry of Justice and that the only way that government would be able to solve the issue of reoffending was to go across departments to look to the Department of Health to look to Housing, to look to other initiatives in much the same way as the Children's Plan has just proposed a cross-government response. When you said are there any gaps it is the most narrow of narrow reports without consultation and without even reference as the Chief Inspector says within the criminal justice system to probation and other measures but in particular without any reference to the role other government departments must play.

Andrew Bridges: It is very easy to say but fiendishly difficult to do but to reduce reoffending you have got to do the right thing with the right people at the right time in the right way. It is about differentiated practice and that is very much about what offender management is about and prisons are part of that system. I think as far as this report is concerned, it is what was reasonable to expect given the brief but it is the wider questions which are the interesting questions.

Q350 Alun Michael: You rightly say that prison is part of that equation but there is a relationship between the application of community-based interventions and prison interventions, is there not. Can you deal with one without the other?

Andrew Bridges: The pattern has developed over the last 20 or so years that in terms of the whole spectrum of seriousness of offending that prison has expanded down the scale and community sentences have expanded even more down the scale and it is the other sentences that have shrunk. It really does not help to come at reducing reoffending by looking for one-size-fits-all panaceas; it has to be individualised.

Q351 Alun Michael: Those responses are clear in general terms but there is the issue which the Report says little about which is of resources for community interventions. Would any of you want to comment on that?

Andrew Bridges: I have been on the record on the question of the probation system in the forward of our last Annual Report making the point that the capacity has been gradually squeezed over a period of ten years and it is the whole question of efficiency savings which are entirely legitimate one year at a time but over a period of time they add up to a considerable amount. Government is correct that the resourcing for probation has increased by a considerable amount in the course of the last ten years but what they are required to do has increased by considerably more than that. If I could just take one figure in the last five years probation staffing has gone up by over 10% which is good but the number of people they have to deal with has gone up by over 20% and that is even before you start looking at what is being asked of Probation to do with them when they have got them.

Juliet Lyon: Might I say something about the costings because I have an anxiety that the figure of £1.2 billion might not be quite right. I also have a concern I do not fully understand and maybe the Committee would want to investigate, how one can borrow ahead of the Spending Review. I thought the whole point of a Spending Review was to produce evidence in order to demonstrate a case for significant public expenditure, but there seems to be, as I understand it, an agreement already made that this money will be taken ahead of the next Spending Review. My understanding - and this is in discussion with senior people in the Ministry of Justice - is that we are talking about more than £2 billion. I think the greatest fear of the Prison Reform Trust is that expenditure on this scale without proper public consultation and without proper parliamentary debate will totally eclipse any real advances in rehabilitatin, any real effort to solve a very long-standing problem.

Q352 Alun Michael: Understanding that position could we focus on the question which was glaring omissions in terms of how other interventions could reduce the requirements for prison, which obviously is the focus of the report? Is there anything anybody would like to add specifically?

Anne Owers: I mentioned in my opening remark mental health services, for example. We produced a thematic review on the mental health of prisoners which pointed to the need of course to improve services within prisons but, crucially, to the need to improve services outside prisons and court diversion schemes that might direct people to them. There is a very helpful consultation paper at the moment on offender health which includes mental health, but my understanding is that there is no new money to be diverted to that.

Juliet Lyon: Specifically on an example of a costing that would make a difference, the estimated cost of residential drug treatment following a PQ was £35,000 a year. All the evidence suggests that residential drug treatment is effective in enabling addicts to break an addiction which is fuelling most acquisitive crime. If we look at binge drinking and I am not sure proper costings have been given to how to enable people to stop hazardous drinking but we know that binge drinking is driving most violent crime and public disorder offences and it seems completely sensible to look at those two issues alongside mental health.

Q353 Julie Morgan: The day after Lord Carter's report, we then had the Government response to the Corston proposals and I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you what your views were about the Government's response and generally about women in prison and how we should move ahead. Perhaps I could ask you first Juliet, because I know you were involved in the report.

Juliet Lyon: I worked as a member of Baroness Corston's review team all of last year and I think we as a group were very optimistic that at long last, after a very long period of time from 2001 onwards when Government published its new strategy on women offenders which made it very clear that it believes the solutions to women's offending did not lie within the prison system but at long last a very measured and thorough-going review would lead to a set of proposals which could change things radically and reduce offending by women. The Government have responded positively to 39 of the 43 recommendations. The omissions are disastrous. The money has not been allocated to take forward Baroness Corston's recommendations at all as far as I understand it and the Commission that Baroness Corston proposed that would drive the reforms has been dismissed, so to have a very small team of civil servants and ministers who undoubtedly are committed to wanting to take it forward; the intentions are still there, the policy commitment is still there but I cannot see from my perspective any prospect of change or delivery and yet actually the proposal would have, interestingly, in the light of the Carter proposals, over a ten-year period have freed up the women's prison estate entirely. Baroness Corston was quite clear that it was possible to close the women's prison estate, to establish small custodial units for those few women who were violent and needed to be locked up and a network of community centres which we observed - Asher in Worcester, Culver vale in Halifax and Centre 218 in Glasgow all of which were up and running with extremely impressive results in terms of outcomes and reduction in reoffending simply by enabling women to take responsibility for their lives, to get out of debt, to take proper care of their children, to deal with their mental health issues and to break addictions and all of these three centres were delivering that in an impressive manner. I am almost speechless. It is such a tragedy to have Titans stamping over something that potentially would make a huge difference.

Q354 Julie Morgan: That is certainly a very pessimistic view. Anne, have you got anything to say?

Anne Owers: I am struggling to be more optimistic than Juliet but not entirely succeeding. I can remember and I think Juliet probably can as well that we have been here before. We were here in 2001 when Juliet's organisation and the Women's Policy Group in the Home Office put forward proposals for small community-based women's units and those got knocked out of the way by a rising prison population which led to more resources and energy being put into building prisons. I fear that we are running into the same kind of thing again and it is very disappointing that it was possible the day after Lord Carter's report to allocate whatever significant resources there are to the prison building programme but nine months after the Corston Report no money is forthcoming. It is also in the larger picture -I have to say I find it somewhat paradoxical that the approach towards women in prison, which I entirely support, is that we should put resources into things that are not prison and we should have smaller community-based places close to home but for any man over 18 the approach is we should put lots of money into building prisons and put them in prisons 2,500 strong. I would be the first to say that women are different but I would submit they are not that different.

Q355 Chairman: We will come back to some of the implications of that.

Andrew Bridges: I would just want to stick to the principle about what should be done with individual offenders and the Corston Report is right about providing an individualised service for individuals and it captures a range of individual issues that women in particular are likely to face including their vulnerability, but having said that, that is the same principle that should apply with this particular group of offenders, and in that sense I agree with Anne.

Q356 Julie Morgan: Mr Tidball.

Paul Tidball: I was the Governor of a women's prison not so long ago for over six years and regularly daily had to deal with people who were 150 miles away from home in some cases and had committed not much more than multiple shoplifting because they had a unfortunate and tragic drug habit. Across the piece not just about women's prisons I think we could think outside the box a bit as is now happening ironically now happening in the USA where a lot of money is invested in communities, not to reduce reoffending but to stop it happening in the first place even. Investment in communities is the way forward. I have referred to the USA. There are a couple of states in the USA where local authorities are actually given the sentencing budget and they decide what to do with it. This is being piloted in a couple of states and it has resulted in 70% less use of imprisonment so I am sure that in those states they will be investing that money that is diverted rather than spending the amounts of money we are talking about today into community facilities to support women and men. That is why they are able to reduce the huge expenditure on prisons.

Q357 Julie Morgan: We did see some of the community work in the USA. What do you think would be the most important thing that could be done now to drive the Corston Report forward because I take the point that some of you have made that the same remedies are needed for men maybe but certainly we could lead the way with women and then we could follow with men, so what would be the most important thing now at this stage where we are to drive this agenda forward?

Paul Tidball: My understanding is, having had a brief look at the Government's response, that the feasibility - I can understand the frustration about going back to 2001 and similar undertakings being made at the time, but the feasibility of women's custodial units nearer home will be looked at. The only way I would differ slightly from Lady Corston in fact is that she speaks of small, multi-functional custodial units. If they are secure units which are so secure that they do not have the facility to put women out into community activities from the custodial units, it is not going to be a multi-functional unit because it will not be big enough for it to be multi-functional. There would be a limit to the custodial regime that can exist in those units.

Juliet Lyon: I think the Committee could, if I might say, play a critical role here. I am sure that Ministers have issued a strong statement of intent, led by David Hanson, and they have talked of the timeframe in which they are going to establish an inter-ministerial group and set up a cross-departmental criminal justice women's unit. It is not the same; it does not have the same level of authority or budget in the same way as Lady Corston envisaged, but it does set a timeframe for moving the recommendations forward, which we welcome. If it were possible for your Committee to hold Government to account this time on a set of clear promises (but, as yet, as I said, no opportunity to deliver on those promises) and if it were possible to interrogate to see how proceeds - I do not know whether that is possible.

Chairman: It is like teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, but we will do our best! It is part of what we do.

Q358 Alun Michael: Within the Carter recommendations there were some references to measures to cut demand for prison places - if we stay on that issue. Jack Straw gave a general and positive response to the report but do you think there is something more specific that is needed on those Carter recommendations? For instance, reform of the Bail Act, time spent on conditional bail, restriction of community sentences? Or is there anything else you want to refer to?

Anne Owers: There is certainly a need to move on the IPP sentences, which the Lord Chancellor has said he will do. I think my concern about this, really, derives from what we have seen about Lord Carter's previous report, the 2003 report. Lord Carter then recommended two things very clearly: he recommended the creation of a National Offender Management Service and an offender management approach with it, but, also, that the prison population should be kept below 80,000. It is obvious which one of those we have got. This report recommends prison building and measures to reduce demand in the short and medium term, and in the longer-term a sentencing commission. My fear is which one of those we will get and how difficult it could be - and it has proved difficult previously - to reduce demand for prison places unless we do things differently.

Juliet Lyon: In Annex E of Lord Carter's report on pages 50 and 51 he sets out a package of measures which we welcome - not all, I understand, the Ministry of Justice has responded to positively. Just very briefly, we have produced a briefing paper which I shall submit on the IPP sentence, just showing, really, how very rapidly, against projections and predictions and questions in the House, it had grown to well over 3,000 people serving those sentences (more than 400 of whom are now over tariff), and the way in which that badly drafted and very unjust measure had had a major impact on the population and those who have to administer the prison system. One of the things we have identified, in particular, in relation to IPP, because we are doing a programme of work on learning disability, is that those with a learning disability or an IQ below a certain level are disbarred from attending these programmes. So they really are in a maze with no exit. They are, in effect, serving a longer sentence because of a disability, which I think is a human rights breach. We have submitted evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights to that effect. I do not think it is reasonable to have a sentence which requires people to jump through a series of hoops then not make those hoops available, and then to disbar particular individuals because of a disability from even entering that particular race. The measures on IPP are right to try and reduce, and, in the view of the Prison Reform Trust, it would have been legitimate to withdraw the sentence entirely. I think that might have been something the Lord Chief Justice has referred to on public record - that it was simply a bad sentence. If I might say just a couple of other things, because there are recommendations about bail, we know that, for example, if you look at the women's prison population, two-thirds enter on remand but when they get to a court case, after a matter of a few days, then a fifth are acquitted altogether and more than half go on to serve a community penalty. In our view, there is still an over-use of custodial remand, and I think those recommendations would have made a difference. On recalls and the idea of limiting to 28 days, we know that six out of ten recalls to custody are for technical breaches of licence, and very many of those people are simply behaving in a chaotic way, which is difficult to manage but, arguably, does not warrant a long period of imprisonment. That has swelled the numbers colossally; 11% of the local prisons are now taken up by people on recall to prison. These measures seem to be very sensible to rebalance a system and reintroduce some degree of proportionality.

Q359 Dr Palmer: I have a couple of questions to Mr Bridges, if I may. The pressure on your resources is clear, but talking to local probation officers they had two primary concerns: one is that they feel that a lot of the additional resources that have been given to the Probation Service have gone to the managerial level rather than to the front line, and the other is that they feel that they have been led into a somewhat defensive culture where, because of a few, high profile cases where somebody re-offended and it was found that the probation officer had not re-interviewed them at the appropriate date, they were really focused on box-ticking; on making sure that they had the required number of interviews at the required number of dates rather than the broader mandate of preventing re-offending. The combination of those two things made them feel that they were simply becoming much less effective.

Andrew Bridges: Like everything else in the criminal justice system, everything is always terribly complicated and there is never a simple answer. So try to get the big picture. As I have said already, I think resources have gone up; demands have gone up by more. How much of that additional amount is down to additional management, as alleged by people who have spoken to you, yes, some of it - there is now an enormous headquarters (?) - with a lot of it involved in probation policy and the equivalent of that ten years ago was absolutely minute. However, that is just a small part of the issue. A lot of it is specialist interventions which simply did not exist before; some of it is particular services that probation officers are required to do that they did not have before. So it is always complicated. It is a factor, but it is a bit of a stereo-type to say that it is the whole factor. As for the question of what probation officers are now required to do and are they defensive and on the back foot (and, of course, some people say: "Yes, well, look, if you publish reports like this then, of course, people will be on the defensive"), we are very clear about what is expected of probation staff and their partner staff in the police, the prisons, etc, when managing offenders, and it is to take all reasonable action. When we review a case and we say: "Yes, under the circumstances, they did everything that was reasonable", that is okay because you absolutely cannot eliminate risk in the community. This is the issue that is bedevilling all of the discussions about criminal justice. We say something is more effective than something else. You have to understand, it is by a few percentage points. Now, that is a big gain, a few percentage points, in numbers, but that also means there are lots of disappointments as well. Some of them are awful disappointments, and people get upset about them. So, yes, probation officers are being held accountable now in a way that they were not before, but what we are not doing is asking them to achieve the impossible.

Q360 Dr Palmer: Quite specifically, I have had cases where probation officers were criticised because of a particular, bad outcome. If you feel that the probation officer has genuinely been doing their best to prevent that kind of outcome and errors were procedural in the sense of - I do not know - they did not have a particular meeting on a particular day, but basically they were doing a good job, would the Probation Service stand behind the officer in that sort of situation?

Andrew Bridges: Remember, I am the independent Inspector; I am not managing the Service. Therefore, the advantage of an independent inspectorate is to be able to say with fair comment (it is not one of our people we are protecting here, if you want) that we have reviewed cases and said: "Yes, they did all that was reasonably expected". That should be a reassurance both to the staff but, also, to the public. We are not afraid to criticise. We do not criticise because something has happened; we criticise because someone has omitted to do something they could reasonably have been expected to do that would have made that event less likely. However, you can never prevent it; it is not prison in the community.

Q361 Dr Palmer: In the discussion with Lord Carter we touched on the End of Custody Licence scheme, which we are trying to keep separate from the general concept of early release, which I think was fairly widely accepted. The End of Custody Licence scheme is a measure to reduce sentences in order to relieve prison overcrowding. He seemed to recommend continuation of that for, let us say, the foreseeable future. Do you agree that is necessary?

Paul Tidball: Certainly, I think the Prison Governors' Association might have been influential in it happening because we are a pretty quiet lot generally but when it comes to being asked to supervise people in disgraceful conditions and inadequate accommodation (court cells was the case in question) we made a bit of a fuss about that, and ECL resulted pretty quickly after that as a more acceptable, to us, option than putting people into squalid conditions. It is there, it is happening and only those who are considered minimal risk are considered for actual release under that scheme (and it is only for the number of days you are familiar with), and it needs to stay as long as possible rather than overcrowding existing prison cells or using inappropriate accommodation outside prison.

Q362 Dr Palmer: Do you think that the current number of days - 16, is it - is sufficient for the time being, or would you like to see an extension to 30 days, or something like that?

Paul Tidball: I had the impression from Ministers at the time that 16, for some reason which I am not privy to, was as far as they could go politically. I do not know what was magical about the figure 16, but there was a feeling that it was too little, I think, and that it would not give us much of a breathing space. I would not have a view on whether it should be extended or not. There does not seem to be any capacity for reducing it.

Q363 Dr Palmer: Do other witnesses have a view on this?

Andrew Bridges: Yes. Underlying this and all the other questions is what it is you want the criminal justice system to achieve. It is not in my role now to advocate a policy, but I think it is, perhaps, to unpack the costs and benefits of difference choices. What is very clear, and I think a perfectly reasonable assumption, is that the prison population is going up because of lots of complicated changes in the sentencing. Do you want people to be sentenced to less custody? Whether it is front-door or backdoor is a secondary question; the first question is: what does it achieve? Just for the sake of argument, say the sentencing pattern stayed exactly the same as it is now, except you reduced average sentence length by, say, three months, on average, or (if you look at the alternative option) maybe increasing it by two or three months, on average, and you look at the costs and benefits of what is achieved. Prison has an incapacitation effect; there is no point pretending that it does not - it does. The problem is that it is a very small effect achieved at a very high cost. That is the cost-benefit analysis that I think you have to make as policy makers. The 16-18 days has an effect of incapacitation; something is achieved but it is achieved at a certain amount of cost. You could have more, you could have less. I think it is hard to make the case that the benefit outweighs the cost, but it is not for me as Chief Inspector to say which it is; that is the judgment to be made on behalf of the taxpaying public.

Q364 Dr Palmer: Could I just clarify what you meant? You are not sure that the benefit of what outweighs the cost? Of ECL?

Andrew Bridges: It is just incapacitation for a period of time. Given that somebody has been sent to prison - you wanted them deterred, you wanted to deter others - people do not think: "Ooh, I might go to prison for 26 months therefore I won't do it, but if I go to prison for only 25 then I will". It just does not work like that.

Anne Owers: My approach to this would be to agree with what Lord Carter said. I think we need a sensible, front-door policy on sentencing, and a sensible and properly impact-assessed way of either passing legislation or developing guidelines on sentencing. I think that is the proper way to do it, because that means that those responsible can plan a sentence and can use it to the best effect. It is not, as Andrew Bridges said, just about incapacitation; it is about attempting to use all the weapons in the criminal justice armoury to reduce re-offending. We should approach it in that way, and I think the indeterminate public protection sentences that the Committee is very well aware of are a classic example of how not to do that because the projected numbers were predicted; they were predicted as soon as the legislation had gone through. They began to become apparent very swiftly. At no point, really, was there an impact assessment of what that would do and whether that was what the Government, politicians or the public had planned for or desired. As Andrew Bridges said, those are properly political questions; they are not questions for me, but I do very strongly believe they are questions that need to be asked and to be answered in terms of what is an effective penal policy to protect the public.

Juliet Lyon: Could I just respond on one level, insofar as I think it is fair to say that the Prison Reform Trust did not welcome that step, insofar as it was a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis. We feel that that undermines public confidence, and our experience of running public opinion polls in terms of how the public imagine it is best to reduce re-offending does not reflect measures of that kind; they reflect right the other end of the spectrum, really; the thousand victims of crime who put first on their list better supervision of young people by their families, who put high up their list drug treatment and mental health care, who put prison seventh or eighth on their list on how to prevent non-violent crime - which is, after all, still the main reason that people go to prison. It does not feel like a measure that would engage the public and make people feel confident - far from it. So we would like to see a much more deliberate consultation process; a proper conversation in Parliament and in the public as to how best to deal with this in the longer term. This feels very short-term. In fact, the short-term measure that was taken bought very little time indeed.

Q365 Mr Tyrie: I would like to go back, if I may, to some comments that Juliet Lyon made very near the beginning. Today we have heard quite a bit of criticism about Lord Carter's report, local consultation amongst the prisons, and will they produce more of the same failure? One point you made was that you had been in discussions with officials who had told you that the considerable cost outlined by Jack Straw in his statement of £1.2 billion for the delivery of these proposals was not, in fact, going to be the full cost of them, and that this might be - I think you said - nearer £2 billion. Could you elaborate on what you have been told and, where possible, give us more information?

Juliet Lyon: I think it is more the point about trying to raise a question (in that I do not think the full cost has been made clear), and my sense of reading Lord Carter's report and the Government response, and then talking to various people about the implications of it. I do not have a sense that we are talking about 1.2; as I said, nearer double that. I cannot substantiate that. I raised it quite deliberately because it needs substantiating and I think a series of questions might reveal larger costs.

Q366 Mr Tyrie: Are you saying that officials have told you that 1.2 billion may be an under-estimate and that 2.4 billion may be nearer the mark? Nearer double that, you have just said a moment ago.

Juliet Lyon: I am saying I have certainly heard from people, not in a formal sense of letting the Prison Reform Trust know but in conversation with individuals, and my sense is that we are talking about greater costs.

Q367 Mr Tyrie: Is this in conversation with officials, as you have said earlier, or is that something you would rather take back off the record?

Juliet Lyon: I would like to review it, because I keep a detailed note of meetings that we have. I could then look back through detailed notes and let you know who the conversations were with, if it were possible to do that. I would be very happy to do that.

Q368 Mr Tyrie: I am sure you understand that it would be extremely serious if the Lord Chancellor were to have come to the House with a very clear statement (and I have it in front of me): "I have agreed with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer additional funding of £1.2 in the light of Lord Carter's recommendations" and we are to find that, actually, that is just a rough figure that has been thrown out in the hope that that might look plausible for a while, when, in fact, the cost of these proposals is very substantially more.

Juliet Lyon: I am very prepared to go back and do some much more thorough work and answer you properly.

Q369 Mr Tyrie: In the light of the consultations you have had, you can confirm to us today that you have been in conversation with people who have told you that 1.2 billion is a considerable underestimate - a gross underestimate - and that that number may be nearer double it, nearer 2.4 billion. Is that correct?

Juliet Lyon: That is my sense of it, and if I have got it wrong I apologise. I do need to review the notes but I am very prepared to do some work at the Prison Reform Trust and submit something that will either substantiate or I will have to withdraw that remark. Certainly, my sense is that it may be an underestimate.

Q370 Chairman: If we can have the detail before we question the Secretary of State on Monday we would be quite glad to have it.

Juliet Lyon: I will do my best.[1]

Q371 Mr Sharma: This is regarding the changes in the Bail Act. Lord Carter recommended limiting remand in prison to those offenders who would realistically face a custodial sentence. Do you think these proposals go in the right direction? Are they sufficient?

Juliet Lyon: It was a report a long while back by the previous Chief Inspector of Prisons, which was a report called Just Desserts, which looked at remand, looked at the use of bail and found a number of things that needed to be changed. I do not think things have changed substantially. Although the remand population has not exploded in the same way as other elements of the population, it is still very high. It does go in the right direction. We feel that probably more could be done in relation to the intermediate estate. It is something of a disappointment that that phrase, which was used by the Halliday review, which essentially would have encouraged housing associations to provide housing and other opportunities for people, which would enable people to have a fixed address but would not mean that they had to go into custody - that whole area of recommendations that came from the Halliday review, unfortunately, does not seem to have been considered in this report by Lord Carter.

Q372 Mr Sharma: Will Lord Carter's proposed structured sentencing framework developed by a new sentencing commission be the solution to recurring prison capacity crises? What lessons are to be learnt from the US about sentencing commissions and sentencing grids?

Juliet Lyon: I will do my best and, obviously, other people will want to answer, too. We found it, initially, difficult to understand the difference between the existing arrangements - the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Sentencing Advisory Panel - because our understanding is that when the Sentencing Guidelines Council was established some similar words were used to describe its purpose. I guess our interest is in a return to proportionality in sentencing, and a mechanism that delivered that would be very welcome. I am still not entirely clear as to how this proposal would differ from the original proposal - not necessarily the actual functioning now of the SGC but the original proposal - because my understanding was it was designed to reintroduce proportionality in sentencing, and there is plenty of evidence of inflation in sentencing.

Andrew Bridges: I do not feel able to be an authority on how a sentencing commission works or could work, but I do think we have to learn lessons over the last 40 years (and we do not learn them) that alternatives to prison, so-called, turn out to be the opposite for alternatives to prison. When you create conditional sentencing of any kind, whether it was suspended sentences from 1967 right through to a number that were got rid of in the 1980s because people realised it was having the effect of increasing the prison population, and now we have reintroduced conditional sentencing with more suspended sentence orders than ever before, it is counter-intuitive. People say: "We will make a rule that these will only be given to people who would have gone to prison otherwise", and it does not matter how well you try to draft the legislation and it does not matter how conscientious individuals' sentences may be - and I am sure the majority of individuals' sentences are very conscientious - in the end you expand those sentences and then, because a large proportion of offenders do not think about what they are doing, they breach the orders and they end up in custody. If - and this is a policy decision - the aim is not to increase the prison population by even more, please do not be deceived into thinking that sentences with a label of "this is designed to keep you out of prison" will necessarily have that effect. What we have to think about is recalibrating our expectations about what sentencing is supposed to achieve.

Anne Owers: Following what I said before, I do think that some mechanism that is capable of determining what the effect of proposed sentences are going to be - whether those are in legislation or developing through guidelines - is an essential part of managing a criminal justice system and, also, public confidence in a criminal justice system. When you ask people more detailed questions, deeper questions, about what they want from it, they want something that is effective; they want something that means that this is less likely to happen to others, or less likely to happen to them again. We often rush to legislate; we rush to add things in to a sentencing portfolio without considering properly what the effect is going to be and whether that is going to be an effective way of doing what is intended. So something that can provide that I would be in favour of. Like Juliet, I am not sure how this sentencing commission differs from the Sentencing Guidelines Council, but anything that allows an open and transparent debate about sentencing and what we want from it I would approve of. This proposal is not going to come good, even if it is agreed, for some considerable time. We have got a lot of choppy water to get through before any potential benefits of this will become apparent.

Q373 Chairman: Could I turn to the very large prisons? Let me start with a very simple question. Leaving aside the merits of it, is it actually practical to suppose that we could build three very large prisons - perhaps sub-divided in the way that Lord Carter suggested - in a timescale of 2010 to 2013 - designed, planned and built? Is that realistic?

Anne Owers: It is a heroic assumption. I am no expert in prison building and planning; I just inspect them once they are up. History does show that these things can take a long time, and Mr Tidball may have more to add to that. I did not know whether you wanted me to go on to talk about ----

Q374 Chairman: We will come on to the merits, in a moment. Has anyone else got any comment?

Paul Tidball: I gather that the pitch that the companies who have taken an interest in building these, and possibly running them, present is that they could deliver in that time.

Q375 Chairman: Let us have a look now at what Ms Owers says is a heroic assumption. What evidence do we have as to whether this model of a very large prison would work?

Anne Owers: I am not sure what evidence we have. Let me say at the beginning that I am entirely with Lord Carter in the evidence he just gave to you about the need to create more prison spaces in and around London. There can be no question about that. However, whether this is best achieved through large prisons of that size is a different question. I am just preparing the material for my annual report and in that we have looked at our assessments, because we assess every prison we inspect against our four tests of a good prison - that prisoners are held safely, treated with respect, engage in purposeful activity and are prepared for resettlement - and it is very evident, when we look at those assessments, that small prisons do better than large prisons, currently. That is because they provide an environment in which people are known, in which relationships can develop, in which people are often closer to home. Those are the instances we have got. If you look at the example across the Channel, in France, in 1992 it was decided to build a very large prison just outside Paris, a place called Fleury-Mérogis. That was to hold 2,800 people. It currently holds 3,600 people and the one thing the French have decided is they will never do it again. Since building that prison, all the prisons built in France have been between 400 and 600 places, because they found that it could not be managed well. I do not have any other examples, save the American prisons that I have seen in Texas, which I am sure is not what Lord Carter has in mind, but an example to us all about what might happen if we get into prisons as containers.

Q376 Chairman: We recently visited a very large Canadian prison which (admittedly, partly because of other factors in the Canadian system) illustrated some of the problems of very large prisons, other than as warehouses.

Anne Owers: It has to be said that the prisons about which the Inspectorate has historically been most worried are the large, inner-city, local prisons.

Q377 Chairman: Is that partly because they are very old buildings, rather than because of the sheer size?

Anne Owers: Not entirely. Victorian radial prisons are not the worst prisons in the world to run or to be in. Some of the prisons knocked up in the 1970s are much more difficult to run and much worse places to be in. It is because of the culture that can develop in those very large institutions and which can affect very much the way they work. That has certainly been the pattern in some of the large, inner-city locals.

Paul Tidball: I would not disagree with that and, in fact, when there was first media reporting on Carter and responses to it, when I saw that the Chief Inspector said: "All our evidence is that smaller prisons perform best", that is game, set and match to me because there cannot be more of an expert than the Chief Inspector. In terms of why are we doing this, economies of scale are claimed. There will be some of those, but they will cost a lot to build, PFI will be used (and we all know about PFI - mortgages for our grandchildren to pay off in the future.) We are under-whelmed by the case. If the case is simply that there is a better chance of getting planning permission to build it next-door to a Tesco at a motorway intersection, that is not reason enough, I would say. Our instinct is that smaller is better. We were not actually consulted about this; it was the biggest rabbit that came out of the hat on the day that Carter was announced. We had had indications from Ministers that we might be called in to sort of have a look at the report before any decisions were made but Jack Straw was quite clear, was he not, that these will happen.

Q378 Chairman: So there has been no post-consultation either, on the merits of the proposals the Government intends to accept, with the Prison Governors' Association?

Paul Tidball: That is correct.

Q379 Chairman: What do you think of Lord Carter's suggestion that, really, by a very large prison he meant (and I am using my words) a sort of envelope of outer security and services within which you might have three institutions - no doubt with separate governors and different regimes for different prisoners? Was there merit in that proposal?

Paul Tidball: Not especially.

Q380 Chairman: Not even for the economies of scale it might produce?

Paul Tidball: No. There are concerns. Lord Wolfe had concerns about the possible potential for disorder and, because of size, it being bigger disorder. I think there is evidence that where these large prisons exist a sort of gang culture can be more predominant. I am not absolutely sure why that is, but certainly if we look back to when there was a riot at Wymott in the 1990s (I think it might have been), Wymott Prison is not far away from another prison called Garth. There was a full-blown riot at Wymott and nothing at Garth. We suspect that if they were joined up in the same campus there would be a ripple effect. That seems to be a logical assumption.

Q381 Chairman: Ms Lyon, were you waiting to say something about that?

Juliet Lyon: Not the riot specifically but I did want to say something about the large prisons, if I might. I feel there is not any evidence that I have been able to find quickly, and I appreciate there has not been much time. I think it would be important to look at international examples for where large prisons are built. I find it very interesting that Anne has referred to a failed experiment in France. There is a model in South Africa, a 3,000-strong prison there. I do not think there is any evidence that it is working particularly effectively. I think it would be extremely important, before we proceed with these prefabricated buildings, to investigate how they have fared in other countries. The lack of consultation disturbs me. I know that members of the RIBA have done quite a lot of work on prison design recently and have looked at prison architecture and looked at, in their view, what would work best. I am not aware that there has been any consultation with the professional associations for architects or any views taken about what would work best, in terms of design, to facilitate the purpose of imprisonment.

Q382 Chairman: Briefly, you heard Lord Carter talk about various measures like reducing cells out of commission, changing performance indicators and what turned out to be getting rid of programmes that were not particularly well taken up. Do you see anything in these measures, or do you see dangers in this line of argument being taken up by the Government?

Anne Owers: I certainly see dangers in more overcrowding in prisons, and it is not just about the sheer size of the cell, it is about what units were designed for and what they can safely do. I was in a prison just last week in Essex which has one of these quick-build units: quite large units, but with very narrow corridors, rather poor sight-lines and very little space for prisoners to mix and associate. It is being proposed that a significant part of that building now be doubled up. While each individual cell might be okay for two prisoners, the actual unit itself, in our view, would not be safe to run with so many additional prisoners. We have to be very, very careful about overcrowding beyond the current level of 25%, which is already resulting in conditions that none of us want to see - and, certainly, the Prison Service do not want to see - of two people, effectively, living in a lavatory. We have to be very careful about that. We assume that our prisons are safe places, but they are only safe because people work at that very, very hard, and we must not be complacent about the capacity, if people no longer have an investment in the prison, for that situation to change. So overcrowding any more, the Inspectorate will be very, very worried out. I would like to see the evidence that Lord Carter and his team have for the service reductions that there are.

Q383 Chairman: It seems very anecdotal.

Anne Owers: It is anecdotal. My inspections quite often find what Lord Carter has said, and we criticise if, for example, the facilities that are available are not properly used - if education classes are not full or if the prison is not providing short courses for prisoners that only stay there a short time. What we are not saying is that that means you should take away the resources but you should actually use those same resources effectively. We are not arguing for an efficiency saving, we are arguing for an effectiveness increase. The only example I can see in Lord Carter's report is the work that he did on Blakenhurst. I had the benefit of having the person who used to run Blakenhurst as one of my team leaders, and the things that were added into Blakenhurst after the original SLA included more suicide prevention, more night health cover after someone died in a prison at night, race relations work following the Mubarak inquiry and a Muslim chaplain. I am not clear which of those (that is a small example) you would strip out in a safe and well-run Prison Service. So I think I would want a lot more evidence about what kind of services. I am absolutely clear that we need to make sure our prisons are run efficiently and we would not be against service level agreements and clarity. We expect our governors, often, to be clear about what it was they were expected to deliver for the population they have got. Whether that will deliver enough efficiency savings, I do not know; it is not my area of expertise.

Q384 Chairman: Any brief, final points?

Paul Tidball: I think the evidence is very easily obtainable because occupancy rates, how long people remain on courses and whether they are completed, are actually measured very closely indeed, and they are one of the dreaded lists of key performance targets. That is actually there, and it is taken very seriously by governors to maximise those resources. I do not know if I am predicting a question now, but just in terms of efficiencies of 3% and the affordability of it, I think this Committee needs to be aware that the Prison Service has decided, obviously with ministerial support, to reduce the core week for prisoners as from April, which will mean them being locked up for half-a-day more than they are at the moment, which will reduce the constructive activity time outside cells. This is all rather sad, but this is our best way of actually making that saving next year. If I told you that our oldest prison in the estate is Lancaster Castle, built in 1500; in 1743 it had more time out of cell than will exist there after April. That is just an odd historical bit of data, but I can tell you that I joined the Prison Service in 1976 as a direct entrant as Assistant Governor, and, as Anne Owers will confirm, there is not total uniformity between prisons. A good governor will squeeze the regime to get the maximum time out-of-cell and do that through making efficiencies and driving staff and staff detailing to achieve that. Now they are going to have inflicted on them a core day which does not give them the opportunity to do that, and the statistic that is probably more valuable than the one about Lancaster Castle in 1743 is that prisoners will be spending more hours locked up than they were in 1969, as from April this year.

Q385 Mr Tyrie: I would like to ask you, in summary, whether you think that it would be unfair to say that what we have heard today is a story of Titan prisons being proposed on the basis of inadequate evidence; inadequate evidence on the efficiency savings which are being suggested and a £1.2 billion cost envelope which appears to have been written on the back of an envelope. If you do feel that is an accurate summary, do you think the Government should think twice before immediately going ahead with implementation of the Carter Report? Perhaps Anne Owers would like to comment.

Anne Owers: On the 1.2 billion, the answer is I do not know. I do not know on what basis that has been reached, so I have no idea whether it is a ledger or an envelope. I do think that I would want more evidence about the possibility of meeting 3% of efficiency savings year-on-year - not just 3% efficiency savings next year, which will have the effect that Paul Tidball has just described, but this carrying on into year two and year three as well. I do not see it in the Carter Report. It may well be in the evidence that Lord Carter and his team have collected, but I cannot see it in the report. I would certainly want evidence of these kinds of prisons working well. We have clustered prisons, as the Lord Chancellor said in the House, and those can work effectively but they are very clearly devolved units, and that seems to me to be a very different matter from a large, multi-functioning prison.

Q386 Chairman: I am going to go along the line. I think Mr Bridges said he had got something to say at this stage. Do not feel compelled to, but I give you the opportunity.

Andrew Bridges: I am afraid I am going to just take it back to the fundamental question that, as a country, we have to decide what we want the criminal justice system to achieve. If you are happy with the current pattern of sentencing then you do have to go on and on building more prison places. That is one of the options and it is clearly a high-risk option, because large organisations are harder to manage than small ones, for all the reasons you have already heard. What you really have to grasp is a much more difficult and fundamental question: do you want the criminal justice system to do something slightly different from what it is now? We are incapacitating an awful lot of people who do not need incapacitating in order to incapacitate a few people who do need to be locked up. It really needs something much more fundamental to be thought through and acted on if that is to be changed.

Juliet Lyon: I would support that entirely and, obviously, sentencing is a key component, and the aspects of Lord Carter's report that address sentencing are important. However, I feel, because we are an independent group that does not take government funding, it is probably my responsibility very briefly to say that from the Prison Reform Trust perspective, and the perspective of the Criminal Justice Alliance, which is 50 organisations concerned with criminal justice (many delivering services) that we are winded (?), I think it is fair to say, by political change. On record, on 12 July in The Times, Jack Straw was reported as saying that even if he could "magic an extra 10,000 places" he would still have the same debate about the use of imprisonment. He talked about a national conversation about the use of imprisonment and he indicated that we cannot just build our way out of trouble. His Minister, David Hanson, on 25 July, told the Fawcett Society, delivering a lecture: "We need to look again at who we are sending to prison. The rhetoric that we should just keep building prisons is an over-simplification of a far more complex problem." We feel that we have been presented with a simple solution, which is Titans, or warehouses, which actually is no solution at all.

Dr Palmer: I want to differentiate the two points we have heard about Titans. The whole panel has, at the very least, questioned the idea of very large prisons as being a good solution. That is evidence that we need to take into account. I have been less convinced that any of the witnesses have actually given us a reason to query the 1.2 billion at present. I think, Ms Lyon, if I am correctly representing you, you have an impression based on conversations with people who, at present, you are not quite able to identify that it might be larger and it might be quite a lot larger, but that, for me, is not yet a basis for concluding that 1.2 billion is actually wrong. You might come back to us, but at the moment ----

Q387 Chairman: Ms Lyon has already offered to see if she can come back to us on that.

Juliet Lyon: I will do my best, but I think there is another issue - whether it is 1.2 or whether it is 2 billion. The issue is: what could that money have been spent on?

Q388 Dr Palmer: Absolutely.

Juliet Lyon: It could have been invested in something that would have cut crime rather quicker and rather more comprehensively, particularly residential drug treatment, than more prison places.

Dr Palmer: That is right, but at the moment you are not offering firm evidence that 1.2 billion is wrong.

Q389 Chairman: I think we are pressing Ms Lyon on what she has undertaken to write to us about.

Juliet Lyon: I will do my absolute best to do that.

Chairman: We are very grateful for that. Indeed, we are grateful to all four of you ladies and gentlemen for your evidence this morning. That concludes our proceedings for today.



[1] Note by witness: I have reviewed the discussions I have had with Ministers and officials around the time of the publication of Lord Carter's report and have concluded that what I was told reflects the fact that funding for the new 'titan' prisons is additional to the exceptional funding already committed to the building programme. The total funding for all the extra prison places will therefore be considerably in excess of £2bn. In my view, there will also be significant additional running costs once these new places come on stream which will be a continuing drain on resources. I am sorry that I did not make myself clear to the Committee on this point.