Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I agree with the general line the noble Lord is taking. I was at Wormwood Scrubs last Friday. How can one improve on the board of visitors?

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I take that point into account. What happened at Wormwood Scrubs, including the report of the board of visitors, hardly addressed the situation affecting the inmates.

I conclude by saying that reform is long overdue. By the very nature of the crimes they have committed, prisoners have lost many of their rights. But what they have not lost is the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Equally, those who run the prisons must be afforded the same dignity and respect. The courts have determined the sentence that a prisoner should serve. We must not create conditions which oppress beyond what the courts envisaged. If we fail to uphold these values, we lose our status as a civilised society.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I join others in offering my thanks and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for introducing this debate which has attracted one of the most distinguished lists of speakers for some time. I believe that it was my noble friend Lord Baker who referred to the fact that it has attracted three former Home Secretaries and three former Ministers of State at the Home Office with responsibility for the Prison Service. My noble friend was admirably non-partisan when he referred to the fact that they were merely former Home Secretaries or Ministers of State. He did not refer to the fact that they were all former Conservative Home Secretaries and Ministers of State.

It is with some sorrow that I saw how few were prepared to speak from the Government Benches other than the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who described himself as "obsequiously loyal" and the noble Lord, Lord Acton. It would have been useful to have heard the views of some of the other former Home Secretaries or some of those who have been relatively active on the Crime and Disorder Bill, which has considerable implications as regards prison policy. Perhaps the noble

25 Mar 1998 : Column 1271

Lord, Lord Hoyle, will encourage their participation on future occasions; or perhaps he would rather not because they may not be as "obsequiously loyal" as the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Certainly I shall encourage them to participate in the remaining stages of the Crime and Disorder Bill, particularly on matters relating to sentencing and the possibility that children as young as 10 or 11 years of age should be sent to prison, as the Government are now recommending in that Bill. I was surprised that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, did not address that matter.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I had no time!

Lord Henley: My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Earl did not have time, but I am bringing the matter to his attention. Perhaps he may wish to address it on some other occasion.

As I said, although there were a number of speakers from my own Benches, there is considerable debate within my party. I cannot agree with everything that some of my noble friends said on this occasion. I begin by saying that although there was a general theme running through many of the speeches that prison does not work, I certainly believe that it does and can work. On many occasions prison is a necessary punishment for the offender and to protect the public. I accept that the prison population has risen dramatically over the past four years. I forget the precise figures, but I believe there has been an increase of about 40 per cent. in the four years to June 1997. Perhaps the noble Lord can confirm that figure. But one should remember that during that time crime fell by 10 per cent. I believe that the two are linked. It is a point that has been made on a number of occasions by senior police officers that locking up those who repeatedly offend can have a major effect on the levels of crime in certain areas.

I have one particular point that I wish to make as regards prison working. It was my understanding that re-conviction rates for those who have served a prison sentence were somewhat lower than for those who had served some kind of community service order. Certain noble Lords have quoted figures to the contrary. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, with all the authority of the Home Office behind him, can give the figures and tell us what are the different levels of re-offending as regards those who have served a prison sentence and those who have served some kind of community service order.

In no way do I wish to decry the use of non-custodial sentences. I believe that all of us agree that they play a major part and that they are a very useful weapon in the armoury available to those who sentence people who have offended. It would be useful to know what are the official, correct figures for re-offending for those who have received some kind of community service order and those who have served prison sentences.

I would like to say something about our record during our years in government. We opened a large number of new prisons. I believe that some 28 new prisons, youth offender institutions and remand centres were opened between 1987 and 1997. Some 11,000 new places were

25 Mar 1998 : Column 1272

created. I believe that a further 7,500 extra places were provided through the development of existing sites. Therefore, will the noble Lord be prepared to comment on the news I received only yesterday that the Government are to close the Colchester Young Offenders Institution? That was a new initiative started only last year to help to bring in some expertise with staff appointed from the Military Corrective Training Centre. Can the noble Lord comment on why it has been closed so early and before we have seen a study of the regime? When a study is carried out will that be made public?

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, in the course of his interesting remarks, will the noble Lord tell the House whether he is defending the record of Mr. Michael Howard in the last phase of the Conservative Government or the records of the three Home Secretaries who preceded him? Those records were totally different. Black is white occasionally, but not very often.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I had the honour to serve in the same government as Mr. Michael Howard. I was part of that government and I agreed with what the government were doing. I believe that my noble friend Lord Hurd also served with my right honourable friend Mr. Howard for a time and I believe that during that time my noble friend would have agreed with the policy of that government.

If I may continue, I turn now to the question of--

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I hope my noble friend will allow me to intervene. Before making such a remark again perhaps he will consider one of my last speeches in the House of Commons on this theme, to which my noble friend Lord Baker referred.

Lord Henley: My Lords, if my noble friend will bear with me, I was referring to the time when he was speaking as a member of the government rather than as a Back-Bencher. I was also referring to my time in government and to the fact that I was a member of the same government as Mr. Howard and that I supported what he was doing then. I still do.

In the short amount of time now available to me I turn to the question of expenditure on the Prison Service. It has been suggested that we cut expenditure. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in particular, that the prison budget almost doubled in real terms between 1979 and 1997. Those who argued that we cut expenditure should address their questions to those on the Government Front Bench. I refer to a Written Answer in another place on 31st July last year when Joyce Quin, the Minister responsible for prisons, referred to a cut in the prison budget, stating that planned expenditure for 1997-98 was £1,774.5 million and £1,733.3 million for 1998-99. That was following a planned expenditure increase under the Conservative Government. It is the current Government who are intending to make those cuts.

25 Mar 1998 : Column 1273

I had intended to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, a number of questions. I shall have to save most of them for another occasion or for correspondence with either the noble Lord or his noble friend Lord Williams. My most important point relates to the contracting out of court escort services, privatisation and the private finance initiative in relation to prisons. Before the election we heard Mr. Straw telling prison staff that privatised prisons would be taken back into the Prison Service as soon as contractually possible. Since then, we welcome the Government's conversion to PFI. We gather that four new prisons are to be built under that initiative. I should like confirmation from the Minister, first, that that will continue and, secondly, of the enormous savings that PFI can bring to the Prison Service. Perhaps the Government will confirm that there is evidence that in terms of running costs private prisons are up to 20 per cent. cheaper than those in the public sector and that even greater savings can be made with regard to capital costs.

On the contracting out of the court escort service, the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will remember that the first court escort service to be contracted out reduced escapes by some 82 per cent. and produced savings of some £12.9 million up to April 1997. When we left office, eight such contracts were in place with a total value of £465 million. The first contract was awarded to Group 4 in April 1993 and it will run until 2003. Can the noble Lord inform the House whether that particular contract with Group 4 for court escort work in the East Midlands and on Humberside, which I believe is due to run out next month, will be renewed? There are great savings here and it is right that the Government should confirm that such contracts will be renewed.

I see that my 10 minutes are up. I have a number of other questions and I shall write to the noble Lord with them. I am sure that I will receive answers in due course.

6.14 p.m.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I have quite a lot to deal with in the time available to me because so many questions have been asked in this very considered debate. If I may say so, the way in which noble Lords have examined this subject in detail has shown this House at its best. I am tempted to say to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that, although he may have lectured me on the number of Labour Members behind me, I have received more support for our policies than he received for his comments about Mr. Michael Howard and his policies from his noble friends who are former Home Secretaries and Ministers. Perhaps the noble Lord would prefer it if his noble friends did not speak in future in debates such as this--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page