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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will recognise that in my earlier comments I sought to respond to those issues. In principle, we accept Amendment No. 32. That will establish the basis on which we finalise the guidance. The guidance will also be subject to debate in both Houses, so there will be parliamentary scrutiny of the final product. In relation to this amendment, I have indicated the role to be played by the parent partnerships.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Minister has not answered our particular point. When a parent asks for information there should be an obligation to respond positively by giving advice and information. Nothing that the noble Lord has said convinces me that that obligation is to be met under the Bill. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Director-General of the Prison Service, Mr Martin Narey, a young civil servant--or at least, young by my standards because he is less than half my age--recently delivered a speech which was one of the most astonishing that I can remember in all my long years. Those noble Lords who are to speak in this debate, along with many other people, will have read what he had to say. However, I shall not quote from the speech because we have so little time. Mr Narey has stated that he is not prepared much longer to defend the
Mr Narey has described the situation in our prisons as "appalling". To an extent, he places the blame on the Government. However, being a civil servant, he cannot blame the Ministers. Sir David Ramsbotham, who knows more about prisons than anyone else, takes the same view as regards the gravity of the situation. However, he blames senior management along with the Government. We shall have to take a broad view of the matter.
Nearly 60 years ago I was working as the personal assistant to Sir William Beveridge. I was his bottle washer. We met Sir David Margesson, then Secretary of State for War. At the time, Beveridge was compiling a report on the use of skilled manpower in the services, although later he was to become famous for his work on social security. Sir David Margesson proudly described what was being done and asked, "Is there not a great deal to admire in that, Sir William?". Beveridge paused and then said, "A miserable show". I am afraid that that is also the verdict passed by Mr Narey on the situation in the Prison Service. It is a miserable show. Sir David Ramsbotham does not take quite the same view. Although he thinks that the situation is equally grave, he places responsibility for it firmly on senior management and the Government.
I do not seek this evening to place any blame because I am more concerned about the future. First, however, another recollection has come to mind. I once heard Harold Macmillan describe in an after dinner speech how he had cried himself to sleep on the first night at his prep school. The little boy in the next bed said, "Don't cry. Your position is bad, but not hopeless". I shall start from the assumption that the position is not hopeless. Something can be done about it.
In the last resort, we must ask the Government to do something, because they are responsible. Prisons are a part of the public service. The Government must take responsibility if the situation has deteriorated into a total shambles. However, we must first ask ourselves what the Government ought to be doing. In my view, they should concentrate on two matters. First, they need to spend much more money on the Prison Service. To be fair, they are doing so and I give them full credit for that. The second, and more important matter, is the need to reduce the number of people in prison. That is essential.
I am pleased to see that I shall be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, a former Home Secretary and Chairman of the Prison Reform Trust. I am gratified that he will address the House today and I am sorry that he has only six minutes in which to speak. I hope that the noble Lord will recall that, when he was Home Secretary, the prison population stood at 46,000. Today we have well over 60,000 in prison. I hope that he will be able to tell the House of the beauties of a smaller prison population.
The Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has given a scathing account of the situation. He has insisted that the prison population must be reduced. That opinion forms the main emphasis of my contribution this evening. What is going to be done to reduce the prison population? It may be said that people are sent to prison by the courts, not by governments. That response is not good enough. When Michael Howard became Home Secretary, he announced a new policy which was very much less agreeable or laudable than that of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. Mr Howard announced that, "Prison works". Within four years, the prison population had increased by 50 per cent, with no corresponding increase in crime. That shows what governments can do when they put their minds to it.
Although I give the Government credit for increasing the money available to prisons, what are they going to do to reduce the prison population? They will not even admit that they are in the wrong. No government ever did. I have been a Minister and I have done my bit. One says that whatever the government do, is right. However, I know that that is not the opinion of those outside such circles. We have a mess which needs to be cleared up. It is in the Government's power to do that.
I do not expect a revolutionary statement from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State this evening. I am not quite so innocent as that. An election is coming and nothing must be done to suggest that the Government have become soft on crime. I ask only that the Minister will not commit himself still further in the wrong direction. In a sense, I hope that the less he can say, the better. Perhaps I may ask him only that he will promise to place all that is said in our debate tonight in front of his chief. I cannot ask for more and I shall not get any more.
When all is said and done, this is a grave matter. To return to what I said at the beginning of my remarks, I cannot think of another occasion in my lifetime when a top civil servant has threatened to quit unless a situation is improved. I leave on the table the question: what are the Government going to do? If they can do nothing now, I hope that, when Mr Straw becomes Home Secretary again after the election, he will take action that will be worthy of him.
Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, everyone who is interested in prisons has long owed a debt to the noble Earl. Sometimes he has been laughed at a little for his diligence and his compassion. But some of his warnings and prophesies are clearly coming true. Therefore, our debt to him has increased. It has further increased because he has taken the initiative to organise this debate.
It is high time that we had a full debate on prisons in this House. The other place debated the subject on 12th February. We had a debate on universities not long ago and it was a considerable success. There is a good deal of knowledge and feeling about prisons in
The noble Earl rightly fastened on the speech by Mr Narey, the Director-General of the Prison Service. It was, as he said, a remarkable speech and I hope that many who have not yet read it will do so. It was delivered by a devoted public servant who is known to many of us, a man who was clearly under great stress--not least from the immediate audience in front of him of prison governors. He said that he was proud of much that has been achieved, but that he is no longer willing to put up with excuses for things that are inexcusable, and no longer willing to make such excuses for them himself. There was a contrast between that speech and the bland reassurances that were given in the other place by Ministers at the end of the debate on 12th February.
As the noble Earl said, Mr Narey is not alone. On 31st January, the Lord Chief Justice gave a notable lecture to the Prison Reform Trust, of which I am chairman; and Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a series of tough and admirable reports, has thrown light into the dark corners of the prison world. It will be sad indeed if, as we fear, the clear voice of the chief inspector is silenced within a matter of months if he is not reappointed when his term in that post comes to an end.
This is a crucially important service, and it is now under great strain. Much good work is being done, but there is much that is badly wrong. There is no time to go into all the matters that need to be gone into. I must complement the noble Earl's remarks by saying a word about Feltham, a great institution of this country not far from here, where hundreds of young men are held because they have been convicted or accused of quite serious offences. Mr Zahid Mubarek, a young British Asian sentenced for a relatively minor offence and about to be released, was put into a cell with a young white lad who was known to be mentally unbalanced. Mr Mubarek was murdered in that cell a few hours before he was due to be released. Young men at Feltham are allowed less than three and a half hours on average out of their cells each day. Feltham has had four governors in four years. Let anyone who is acquainted with administration dwell on that ominous fact.
The Government have referred the problem to the Commission for Racial Equality. That is the wrong response. It is evasive. There may be racism in the Prison Service, but the real issue at Feltham and at many other places is not racism; it is ragged, inadequate management--the same brand of management that organised the damaging raid on one of the most successful prisons in the service, Blantyre House, and the dislocation of the governor and his staff. The move has been condemned by a House of Commons committee; and it was admirably dissected by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden in a short debate in this House not long ago.
Perhaps I may say a word about women in prison. The figure has doubled in the past seven years. When are those of us who are interested in the matter going to have an adequate response to the report by Professor Dorothy Wedderburn, sponsored by the Prison Reform Trust? Are we going to wait until the growing numbers of women prisoners are fully caught up in all the troubles and evils of the prison population as a whole? I hope that the Minister will say something encouraging about a separate board to deal with the problem of women prisoners.
I end on the question of overcrowding. Every serious analysis comes back to that, as did the noble Earl in his speech. The Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said the other day in his lecture to the Prison Reform Trust that overcrowding,
Fifteen years ago, when I was Home Secretary, overcrowding was much worse. The police cells in many of our cities were crowded with prisoners. They had to be looked after by the police because there was no room in the prisons. I had to set up accommodation for prisoners at an army camp on Salisbury Plain. Since then, the prison building programme has reduced that pressure, but in a way that is somewhat insidious. We are no longer dealing with a raging fever, which is referred to on the front page of newspapers and of which everyone is aware and accepts that something has to be done. What we are now faced with is a deep underlying sickness. Preston is 81 per cent overcrowded; Shrewsbury is 74 per cent overcrowded; Northallerton is 62 per cent overcrowded. You cannot run a prison decently in those circumstances. All the efforts to deal with matters about which reformers rightly worry--education, training, treatment for drug abuse and the all-important link between prison and what happens to a prisoner after release--are weakened and frustrated by overcrowding.
Yet Ministers and Opposition leaders fail to acknowledge this problem head on. In the fashionable phrase, they are to some extent "in denial". Why? The noble Earl tactfully touched on the point. Some of the policies being pursued by both main parties would have the effect of making the problem worse. In my most depressed moments I sometimes think that the contest over law and order in the forthcoming election will amount to who can overcrowd our prisons most.
That is a popular cry among those who know little about our prisons, and care even less. They are not told often enough that, since almost all people in prison are released, it is a matter of public safety as well of ordinary human rights that prisons should be run to provide the best possible chance of a prisoner going straight after release.
We are talking briefly about a great public service which many of us know well. We are not talking about a waste management system. We are talking about a service through which thousands of our fellow citizens pass, albeit it through their own fault--
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