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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, is the noble Lord recommending the introduction here of Thailand's methods?

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge: My Lords, no, but I shall come to something along those lines in a moment. I should like to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said about Grendon, and the hopeful things in the Prison Service. Grendon is one; Blantyre and Latchmere are others. There may be others, but those three establishments are, in their own ways, very good and they are going very well. I was the first chairman of Grendon about 20 years ago. I served for eight years with Dr. Gray, who was the brilliant doctor who ran it. He took no notice of anyone, including the Home Office. He did exactly what he liked, but he would never accept more prisoners than he thought his staff could cope with properly.

Overcrowding is the primary problem in the Prison Service today. No one attempts to tackle it. Until they do, it will not get any better. Whatever changes had been made under the present regime, as a result of the Home Secretary's change of attitude the prison population has been allowed to rise by 12,000. That requires extra expenditure of something over £200 million. The Prison Service cannot do anything, and it will never be able to do so as long as that sort of thing happens.

We cannot go forward. It is easy to talk. I believe that I have said enough. It is hopeless not to have enough staff to maintain a happy relationship with the difficult men with whom they have to deal. That cannot be done if the prison is overcrowded. If that one message can go from here tonight things might one day be different.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Stewartby: My Lords, I hesitate to enter the debate when most of the other speakers know so much more about prisons than I do. It is a matter that I have been interested in since I had some responsibilities for prisons in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I may apologise to your Lordships, but when I put my name down to speak in the debate I did not realise that there would be a Statement which would change the timing, and so I may not be able to stay until the end.

When I listened to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I had to pinch myself to remind myself that the fundamental purposes of imprisonment are inevitably rather harsh. They are punishment, deterrence and the protection of the public. When one listens to debates on subjects such as this, especially in your Lordships' House, there sometimes seems to be a tendency to consider the humanitarian and rehabilitation aspects of imprisonment rather than its fundamental purpose. If we lose sight of its fundamental purpose, we shall not have the right sort of Prison Service, and it will not deliver what the public expects of it.

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It is in that context that we should welcome the Learmont Report. It is comprehensive, and it makes a large number of practical proposals. In recent years the third of the fundamental purposes that I mentioned--that is, the protection of the public--has been of growing urgency. After all, the Learmont Report was conceived largely in the context of and as a result of the Whitemoor and Parkhurst escapes. They are at the most serious end of the spectrum of security risk.

However, security goes much wider than the physical retention of Category A prisoners. In Judge Stephen Tumim's report on Parkhurst, he noted that the availability of drugs had become something of an inbuilt sub-culture. I believe that that is most worrying because it is most unlikely that it would happen suddenly. These things do not tend to happen suddenly. If proper control and internal management systems had been applied over time, such a problem ought to have been identified, and when identified tackled, at an earlier stage. One cannot run a prison without at least a minimum degree of security and discipline.

The availability of drugs on a scale anything like that suggests not only an occasional breach of security but that it is widespread and has become endemic. That raises broad questions about the lines of accountability and the systems of management within prisons. It also raises doubts about forms of external contact that are available to prisoners. One must assume the golden rule that where there is doubt in matters of security the benefit of that doubt should always be given to protecting the interests of law abiding citizens rather than being in favour of the convenience or comfort of the criminal. I do not wish to sound too harsh in saying that, but any prison system must strike the right balance. I am not suggesting that we should import certain Asian practices, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred to some of those. However, I believe that if we have a prison regime which errs too much on the side of being soft a large part of the purpose of imprisonment is damaged. It provides less deterrence, it is less of a punishment and, critically in terms of tonight's debate, it provides a greater possibility for the development of indiscipline and a lack of security which can arise as a result.

When the Home Secretary placed restrictions on home leave and temporary release he was entitled to address that issue in the context of the serious number of temporary release failures which had taken place. In October, when my noble friend the Minister made the Statement in your Lordships' House about the Learmont Report, she gave some figures. Perhaps tonight she will be able to update them because I believe that there has been a significant reduction in the number of temporary release failures at the cost of some tightening of prison discipline, but one cannot have it both ways at the same time. If we need a disciplined prison system--and we clearly do--we must accept that there may be some uncomfortable consequences as a result.

The fact is that against a considerable increase in serious and violent crime during recent years one must seriously question whether our legal processes and our penal system have been robust enough to take the strain and to deliver what is necessary. It is a common public

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perception, and it is likely to be correct, that not only do too many criminals escape prosecution but that of those who come to court too many, for one reason or another, go unconvicted or are sentenced inadequately.

It is very dangerous if such a public perception leads to the feeling that severe or sudden measures need to be taken to correct it because severe and sudden measures are not always the best way of tackling such a problem. I do not believe that it is fair to criticise my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who has been trying to tackle the issues. I thought that the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, were something of a caricature. To tighten prison procedures and to toughen sentencing is a necessary part of ensuring that the present system operates in a sufficiently disciplined fashion to deliver what the public expect of it. I do not believe that any Home Secretary ought to have to apologise for that.

Perhaps I may conclude by commenting on accountability and morale in the Prison Service, to which the right reverend Prelate and a number of noble Lords referred. Of course it is important that the Prison Service, which has a difficult task, should have a higher morale than is now sometimes found in it. But that can be done only on the basis of clear lines of accountability and responsibility. One of the alarming aspects of the Learmont Report was that in some high profile cases there appeared to have been a failure in that area.

In any other form of human activity lines of accountability and responsibility are absolutely essential for efficiency and the delivery of the objective. In that sense, I do not believe that prisons are any different from any other kind of organisation. Clearly, one of the main issues which will need to be addressed in the aftermath of Learmont and the departure of Mr. Lewis will be the kind of relationship that is necessary between the board and the director general and those who are responsible in the system and within the prisons. Failures of communication, of accountability and of clear lines of responsibility are in most branches of human affairs a recipe for at the best disorganisation and at the worst serious failure. I am afraid that there have been such failures. The fact that we are now able to debate such issues more dispassionately and on the basis of well informed investigation gives us some hope that we can put things right. In that light, we ought to welcome the Learmont Report and express our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for having given us the opportunity of debating it tonight.

7.27 p.m.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I look on this as an important debate and I wish to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for introducing it. I speak tonight not only as a Member of your Lordships' House but as a member of the public. I am conscious that in taking part in the debate I am speaking to people who are much more expert about the prison system than I am.

Like many members of the public, I am concerned about the Prison Service. I am concerned about the regimes which have been revealed in the report, in

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particular the escapes of last year. I am concerned, too, about the steps that have been taken and are to be taken to prevent such occurrences happening again.

It is very important to recognise that today there is a great fear, in particular among older women, of being attacked and mugged. I believe that the statistics do not substantiate those fears but, nevertheless, they persist and are very real. They are not helped at all when dangerous, convicted criminals escape from prison; or when prisoners are let out on parole and commit further offences; or when it is widely reported in the media that a convicted person goes into a prison whose regime appears to be as lax as has been reported.

One of the many changes that has taken place in the course of my lifetime is that when I was young as an undergraduate I would ride my bicycle back to where I lived during the blackout. Neither the college authorities nor my parents were in the least bit afraid of my being mugged, raped or attacked in any way, and nor was I. We cannot say the same today; we are living in a very different world.

I am, of course, well aware that the causes of crime are many and complex and I do not intend to go into that tonight. But what happens when those convicted go to prison must be a part of this important issue. The way in which prisons are run must have some effect on the rates of re-offending and how those currently committing crimes see prisons. For instance, does the prospect of prison act as a deterrent? I agree strongly with the remarks made by my noble friends Lord Stewartby and Lord Campbell of Alloway on that matter.

I was very surprised by the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. I really cannot believe that he is trying to draw a parallel between what goes on in prisons in Thailand and what goes on in prisons in Britain. That is the kind of comparison that is not at all helpful under the present circumstances.

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