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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I agree with others that this a damaging report. In my 50 or more years' experience of prison visiting this is the most damaging report on any prison that I can remember. In those circumstances, the Government can never absolve themselves of all responsibility. On the other hand, talk of resignations should be set aside as ridiculous. My noble friend, whom I have criticised before and shall criticise again quite often, is one of the ablest Ministers I can remember. I rule out that idea. I also disagree with the comment from the Liberal Democrat Benches about the POA. It is easy to blame the POA for everything. I believe that all governments, including the one to which I belong, have failed to establish the proper relationship with the POA. None of us would want to be a prison officer; it is the most appalling job in the world. One must make special efforts to come to terms with the POA, which all previous governments have failed to do.
I disagree very strongly with the Minister on one particular matter. He said that privatisation had succeeded. I disagree totally with the idea of privatising prisons. It is a step entirely in the wrong direction. Having said that, I disagree entirely with those who want to get rid of one of the best Ministers we are likely to find.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have never found myself in absolute, total agreement with the noble Earl. I know that he is enormously supportive of what we seek to do. There is no question of resignation. There is a shame that we have found these things. No one has made a party political point. Sir David Ramsbotham's first report related to matters in September 1996. Matters which should have been put into effect following that time were not effectively followed through.
I have said already that I extended the hand to the POA immediately on taking up this work. I hope that its representatives, chairman and general secretary will want to take that hand and give the co-operation which they have said unambiguously that they will. The noble Earl said that no one wants to be a prison officer and that it is the most appalling job in the world. I entirely disagree. One sees the commitment, dedication and quality of young staff coming into the Prison Service. It is not the most appalling job in the world; and it is done by many with great distinction.
The report also acknowledges differential treatment as regards the statutory right of Moslem prisoners to be involved in religious activities. Will the Minister tell the House what is being done to ensure that all prisoners, including vulnerable prisoners, have equal access to religious provisions?
Paragraph 5.99 refers to the special needs of foreign national prisoners. Does my noble friend agree that we are not talking about special needs or special treatment but about equal rights and equal treatment of all prisoners?
Finally, 46 per cent of prisoners are from ethnic minorities. What action will my noble friend consider in six months' time when the review is undertaken, or perhaps in 30 days when the action plan comes before the Home Secretary? Will my noble friend consider taking on board some of the Macpherson recommendations for all institutions as set out in the report on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend is right. Forty-six per cent of inmates are from ethnic minorities; and 11 per cent of staff. That cannot be acceptable. Earlier this year, the previous director general set up a scheme entirely for the recruitment, training, retention and promotion of those from ethnic minorities in the Prison Service. I have also set in hand a scheme where members of the Prison Service from ethnic minorities will come to my private office on a regular basis for two weeks at a time so that we get a decent interchange of views. That has been enormously well received by those who are from ethnic minorities in prisons. We were overwhelmed by the volume of applications. That is about to start.
I stress that the scheme by Sir Richard Tilt was set up before the report. There is a long way to go. I shall have nothing useful to report in 30 days; and nothing beyond tentative steps within six months because there is a long backlog of wrong behaviour, of blind wilfulness, to get over.
On religious observance, it has been plain to me that the Moslem community was not properly dealt with in the prison context. Therefore I recently authorised a full funding of a Moslem adviser to the chaplaincy. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was interested in that. Those matters are in hand, with the advertisement placed recently.
It will be a long haul. We are ready, quite rightly, on these occasions to criticise wrongdoings of other organisations. But--I do not say this in mitigation--it is not the only organisation in this country which has similar defects in the racial context.
First, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has never before called for the closure of the prison. This is the first time he has done so. That drastic recommendation shows the depth to which the prison has sunk. What concerns me most is that complaints surfaced as early as 1991 through reports of the chief inspector, the board of visitors and by individual inmates. Yet it has taken all this time for any action to be taken. The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, who mentioned the Select Committee inquiry, is right. How long does it take for a complaint of this nature to be dealt with? It was through the sheer force of the solicitors that the complaints were examined in detail.
Secondly, I refer to the machinery of complaints against prison officers. Those of us who have been members of boards of visitors know clearly how inadequate the machinery is. In many cases the governors are powerless against the might of the prison officers. Rather than simply relying on ombudsmen, is it not time to consider whether similar machinery to the Police Complaints Authority is appropriate so that there is an independent element in examination of complaints?
Thirdly, I wish to echo the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. Forty-six per cent of the inmates in Wormwood Scrubs are from ethnic minorities. Many people--some have rung me--are concerned about what has gone on. If we were to analyse the complaints made against prison officers, a substantial number are from black and Asian prisoners. Will the Minister ensure that the Home Secretary's Statement, which is fairly positive in the action that needs to be taken, is reported widely in the ethnic minority press so that sympathy is given to those families who are worried about their relations in prison?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes, we have the benefit of the immediate and, I hope, long-term consequences of the Macpherson recommendations in the context of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. As the noble Baroness said, there are many lessons to be learned from that inquiry which are not limited to one police service; namely, the Metropolitan Police.
I agree that machinery is important. The prison ombudsman, to whom I pay tribute, is just retiring. As his retirement request--not simply the last meal of the condemned man--he asked the Home Secretary and myself whether his terms of reference might be extended. We agreed.
As regards reporting, Sir David and Mr Martin Narey, as the new director general, are having joint press conferences. Had it not been for the fact that I was required to repeat the Statement here, we had agreed that the three of us should be present as an indication of the way in which we all three mean business. I repeat what Sir David has said not in any sense of self-exculpation. During every conversation I and Martin Narey have had with him we have said that we shall support him when he finds wrong-doing and we shall do our utmost to put things right. If we set a 30-day target, we requested him to produce another report in six months which Jack Straw says will be published.
That was not the position in the past. As regards the period going back to 1991, I shall not make any partisan observation. I do not know the full details and I am sure that, as always, there is strength in what the noble Lord says. We have been responsible for what has gone wrong and I repeat what Jack Straw says; he takes responsibility. There is no hiding behind the difference between operations and policy.
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