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Lord Bach: I understand from the Clerk at the Table that it is possible to adjourn the debate on an amendment of this kind before any decision is taken. I notice that some of those who are to speak in the following debate are not present in the Chamber as it is not yet 7.30. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will move his amendment.
Lord Windlesham: I welcome the chance to move my amendment. However, I thought it might receive a warmer welcome if I gave noble Lords the opportunity to discuss it after the Unstarred Question. The Minister who is to reply to the Unstarred Question is not yet in the Chamber. Therefore, it may be convenient to proceed with the amendment now.
The aim of the amendment is to ensure that there should be no merger of the offices of chief inspector of the national probation service and HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. Currently there are separate inspectorates for probation and prisons, each headed by a distinguished and effective chief inspector. But their roles are different. Inevitably there is some overlap as many convicted offenders are likely to spend part of their time in custody and part under supervision in the community. The two current chief inspectors, Sir David Ramsbotham and Sir Graham Smith, both distinguished public servants, have estimated that, at a maximum, 25 per cent of their time is taken up with work that could be described as joint; the remainder being directed either at what goes on in penal institutions or what goes on in the community. To try to put them together under one head would, in the opinion of the current Chief Inspector of Prisons, reduce the effectiveness of both.
I was invited--as perhaps were other Members of the Committee--to contribute to a consultation that is currently taking place on future options for ways in which the two inspectorates might work together more closely. In my reply I argued-- and I summarise the argument now--that the ethos of the Prison Service and of the Probation Service is, and always has been, fundamentally different. Joint working to reduce offending and to protect the public sounds effective enough as a slogan, but it does not take full account of the way that the principal tasks of the two services differ, and will continue to do so.
Security and discipline lie at the heart of the Prison Service. The first task of the prison officer is to ensure that offenders sentenced to imprisonment remain in prison for the authorised period. The need to avoid disturbances, the most serious of which may lead to temporary loss of control, is formative of attitudes towards security and discipline. The inspectorate is, and should be, primarily concerned with what happens inside the prisons. Are they secure? Do the conditions in which inmates are held correspond with what they are supposed to be? How effective are the precautions to prevent drugs being smuggled into, and then traded within the establishment? Are the managers and prison officers properly carrying out the onerous tasks with which they are charged?
It is important to stress this aspect because there has been an unprecedentedly long interval since there have been any notorious escapes or major prison disturbances. I believe that absconding is also at a lower level than in the past. But we should never forget that when major incidents occur--as they have done in the past and will again--they shake public confidence in the prison system more than anything else.
As we are all aware, in recent years the independence and outspokenness of successive chief inspectors of prisons has become a beacon of light in the penal system. Their frank reports, sometimes based upon unannounced visits, have done more to illuminate bad practice, security lapses and unacceptable conditions than any other single source. The chief inspector needs to be someone who understands the workings of a
The Chief Inspector of Probation also has a central role in the penal system, although in a markedly different context. In complete contrast with the Chief Inspector of Prisons, he is seen not as a critical outsider, but in many ways as the focal point and head of a decentralised service. As we know from our debate, that will change with the forthcoming reorganisation of the Probation Service and the appointment of a national director. Thought will need to be given to what should be the nature and responsibilities of the post of chief inspector. But one prerequisite stands out: it should be kept entirely separate from the remit of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. That is the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.
Some months ago in a Starred Question I raised the question of the Government's intention with regard to a prison/probation inspectorate. The Government were, to the best of my knowledge, non-committal. However, it was obvious from the number of supplementary questions that followed that many noble Lords could not support a move that would bring Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons under one control. I ask myself a simple question: why tamper with a system that works well and has delivered all that is expected of it?
The Government's consultation paper mentions developing the joined-up approach. They say that evidence tells them that this will prove most effective. I shall, of course, await the Minister's spelling out of that evidence. I do not question his intentions, but so far the Government have not produced any evidence to prove the effectiveness of such an arrangement because such a situation has never arisen before.
What are the facts? The impact of merging two inspectorates would blunt the effectiveness of both. The criminal justice system can be oppressive if controls are not established at various stages of the process. We welcome the independence of the police inspectorate. We on this side of the Chamber supported the establishment of the inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service. No one would argue that a seamless system requires a single inspectorate looking at various aspects of the criminal justice system. We do not have a seamless criminal justice system, yet we are moving in that direction. Each of the agencies has a specific role. It requires specific expertise to ensure that the system operates with fairness.
HMI Prisons has made a considerable impact on the way in which our prisons are run. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, cited examples of that. Judge Stephen Tumim, and now Sir David Ramsbotham, have been fearless in their condemnation of practices that are unacceptable in our prisons. Have the Government consulted them? Like most other people, I am sure they would say that a unified service is unacceptable.
Then we have the probation inspectorate. The inspector's recent report on race issues in the Probation Service highlights what needs to be done. The detailed inspections promise changes for the good. It keeps the Home Office on its toes. It tells governors and staff which are unacceptable practice in our closed institutions. The resulting publicity is good for the accountability of the Home Office. It also builds the confidence of the community and, more importantly, families and vulnerable prisoners know that the inspectorate is keeping an eye on the conditions and treatment that inmates receive.
No one can doubt that inspection reports have helped to change prison conditions and probation practices. However, I suspect that the Home Office is weary of inspections--more so those of the Chief Inspector of Prisons because his reports normally do not make happy reading and always make headlines in national newspapers.
There are some sound examples where unified probation/prison arrangements work well--for example, in Denmark and Canada. There are combined, unified services providing a single service. We have not reached that stage in this country and are unlikely to do so for some considerable time. When the Prison Service is stretched to the limit, and we are not sure how the newly established probation service will work, it is a backward step to establish a single inspectorate.
I believe that the current arrangements have worked well. They have the confidence of the public and the client groups, and they provide a dedicated focus to their distinctive roles. That should continue. The public want a system they can trust. We shall oppose any move that breaches that trust. The amendments are designed to achieve precisely that.
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: I speak as bishop to prisons, and have made already a submission on behalf of the Board for Social Responsibility, of the Church of England, to the Home Secretary on this point. I support the amendment.
The critical issue is security and the conditions in prisons. In this Chamber, we have debated reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons to successful and useful conclusions. I want to voice my concern and that of many in the community that the posts of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Chief Inspector of Probation should be amalgamated. I can see that there is a minimal amount of overlap. However, my plea is
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