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Lord Archer of Sandwell: If I misunderstood the noble Baroness, I apologise. I thought that she was arguing that, because we are still carrying on consultations about the draft scheme, we may want to change what is in the draft scheme and therefore we do not want to put the definition into the Bill; that we may want to change the provision before anything is done under the scheme. That seems a different point from arguing that at some point in the future we might want to change the matter and would like to keep it flexible. The arguments are different in the two cases. On either limb it seems to me that the Government have not made out their case. If they are likely to want to change the draft scheme in the immediate future, the consultations and reflections should have been undertaken earlier. If they are talking about the advantages of flexibility, we are back to the flexibility of the blank cheque.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I agree that we should have a degree of flexibility. That is why I attempted to draw a distinction between matters which should properly be left to flexibility and those which are part of the essential structure of the measure that Parliament is being asked to agree. I hope that the noble Lord does not seek to argue that the definition of "criminal injury" in a Bill on criminal injuries should be left flexible. That is the issue between us. That is why I seek to test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
"Let me begin by reminding the House of the circumstances which led me to ask Sir John to conduct his inquiry. In September 1994 six exceptional risk Category A prisoners escaped from Whitemoor Prison. I asked Sir John Woodcock to conduct an inquiry into the escape and I presented his findings to the House on 19th December last year. I also asked General Sir John Learmont to conduct a comprehensive and independent review of physical and procedural security in the Prison Service in England and Wales and to make recommendations.
"On 3rd January this year two Category A prisoners and one Category B prisoner escaped from Parkhurst. All three were recaptured on 8th January. I pay tribute again to the police for that successful operation.
"An immediate inquiry was carried out by the Prison Service Director of Security. As I told the House on 10th January, this immediate inquiry highlighted very serious deficiencies in procedural and physical security at Parkhurst. I asked Sir John Learmont to extend his inquiry to include an independent assessment of the events surrounding the escape.
"The report makes the most serious criticisms of Parkhurst and its management. On security procedures, Sir John found that the Prison Service's own security manual was disregarded and that the most basic security procedures were not observed. Sir John also makes a number of criticisms of the physical security of Parkhurst, including the failure of the Prison Service to provide the prison with the full benefits of technology.
"I am also publishing today the report of the inspection of Parkhurst by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumim. The inspection took place in October last year and the report was submitted at the end of February.
"Sir John Learmont recommends that Parkhurst should be taken out of the dispersal system as soon as possible and consideration given to its replacement by a more appropriate establishment (paragraph 2.179). I accept this recommendation. Parkhurst has not in practice operated as a dispersal prison since April when all Category A prisoners were removed from normal location. I have asked the Prison Service to identify another prison in the south-east of England to take Parkhurst's place in the dispersal system as soon as possible.
"Sir John's inquiry was not a disciplinary inquiry. Sir John has recommended to me that no disciplinary inquiry should be undertaken into the escape from Parkhurst. He is of the view that such an inquiry could finally break the resolve and commitment of many of the staff at Parkhurst, with the very real possibility that the secure running of the establishment could be severely compromised. He is also of the view that it is difficult to see what a disciplinary inquiry would achieve. In considering this recommendation I have been influenced by the fact that more than one of those concerned will not be staying in the Prison Service. I have therefore decided to accept this recommendation.
'alarm bells should have been ringing throughout the Prison Service' (paragraph 2.255),
In his covering letter Sir John Learmont makes it perfectly clear that responsibilities ultimately reach the level of the Prisons Board and that is where criticism stops. Sir John has not found that any policy decision of mine, directly or indirectly, caused the escape.
"Sir John's report makes 127 detailed and wide-ranging recommendations. I accept the broad thrust of Sir John's analysis. About half of the recommendations endorse actions that have already been completed, are under way or are already planned. I will deal today with Sir John's key recommendations and I will come back to the House with a full response in due course.
"A key recommendation of the report is that there should be one maximum security prison to house the most dangerous prisoners in the system. This was a recommendation first made by the Mountbatten Inquiry in 1966 and accepted by the then Home Secretary (who is now the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead). But the Radzinowicz Report in March 1968 recommended against it and it was not implemented. Since then the policy has been to disperse such prisoners among a small number of high security prisons. Sir John concludes that,
'the continuous development of explosives and weapons and their availability to criminals and their associates pose a much greater threat to the security of our maximum security prisons than the Service has previously encountered'.
"Sir John also recommends a fundamental review of the system under which prisoners are allocated to different security categories according to the threat to the community and the likelihood of escape. I accept that a review of this system should take place.
"Sir John also recommends that minimum physical security standards should be set for each category of prison. Work is well under way on bringing the dispersal estate up to the standards of security recommended by Sir John Woodcock. National standards exist for all new prisons. Decisions on the appropriate security standards for non-dispersal prisons will be based on the outcome of the review of categorisation.
"One particular aspect which I asked Sir John to consider was the extent to which visits should be closed. He recommends that there should be closed visits for exceptional risk Category A prisoners other than in exceptional circumstances. This coincides with the policy I introduced in June this year.
"But there are two issues on which Sir John and I must agree to differ. I reject his proposal that in-cell TV should be made widely available. This would not be consistent with my view that prison conditions should be decent but austere. Nor can I accept Sir John's proposal that home leave should be more widely available. In my view, the restrictions introduced earlier this year have an important role in protecting the public; and I have no plans to relax them.
"Sir John Learmont has found a great deal that needs to be put right within the Prison Service, spanning leadership, structure, the management chain and the ethos of the service. He says that responsibilities ultimately reach Prisons Board leveland the criticism stops there.
"These comments, coming so soon after the Woodcock Report on Whitemoor, cause me great concern. I must be able to assure this House, and through it the public, that the grave weaknesses in the service which have been disclosed will be put right.
"I have come to the conclusion, with some sadness, that this requires a change of leadership at the top of the Prison Service. The present director general has served in his post for nearly three years. I pay tribute to him for what he has achieved. But I cannot overlook the serious criticisms in the report. I believe the service requires a change of leadership to carry forward the programme of reforms which is needed and to increase public confidence in the security of our prisons.
'There is an abundance of excellent people within the Prison Service whose most fervent wish is to do a good and worthwhile job'.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating that lengthy Statement. Let me make it clear from the outset that I have not had an opportunity to study the report, but I have no reason to suppose that Sir John Learmont and his colleagues did their work in anything other than an
I feel that there are three levels at which we should consider this report. The first is the particular recommendations. I have one or two questions to ask about them. The second level is the implied re-opening of the issue of the next steps agency status of the Prison Service. The third and, I believe, the most important level for our consideration today is the political responsibility: the relationship between the Prison Service and the Home Secretary and, through the Home Secretary, Parliament.
As I said, I have not had an opportunity to study the report or see anything other than the summary of the recommendations which is contained in the Statement. But if the intention is to explore over the coming months the prospects for a single prison for maximum security prisoners, we certainly wish to co-operate with such an inquiry and will be keenly interested in the results of such a review. Perhaps I may ask the Minister how long it will be before such a review takes place.
An important recommendation is on allocations policy. The Home Secretary has accepted the recommendation that there should be a review of allocations policy. My only comment on that is that many of the complaints about bad conditions and lack of security in prisons have arisen because allocations policies have been distorted by overcrowding in our prisons. That is the fundamental reason why, in many prisonsnot just Whitemoor and Parkhurstthere are prisoners in locations where they should not be and where it was never intended that they should be. That in itselfI ask the Minister to comment on this pointis a potential security risk.
Is it not the case that the announcements made by the Home Secretary in his speech at Blackpool last week at least raised the prospect of a very substantial increase in overcrowding in our prisons? If our prison population is to increase by the 20,000 or so implied by the Home Secretary's statements, it will be many years before a prison building programme could accommodate those prisoners without affecting not just decent conditions but also bad allocations policy.
I notice that the Home Secretary feels free to pick and choose among the report's recommendations. Where he thinks that they fit in with the stance that he takes at his party conference, he leaps at them; but where they contradict his own judgmentsfor example, in-cell television and home visitshe rejects them without so much as an attempt at serious argument. He also claims that the abolition of automatic remission and its replacement by earned remission of sentence is an important part of his policy. That is not how I understood his statement last week, which seemed to everybody who read or heard it to be going much further than that in reducing the application of the parole system. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, whom I am glad to see in his place, in a devastating letter to The Times today has criticised some aspects of the Home Secretary's speech. So the Home Secretary has accepted some of the recommendations and rejected others. We
Does not that imply that Sir John is unhappy about the relationship but is simply reserving his judgment on the issue until he has further evidence in order to help him take a position on it? I ask the Minister, when the review that has been recommended is completed, whether Sir John and his colleagues will be asked to reconvene and submit a report to the Home Secretary on that very important issue.
That is not good enough. The responsibility to Parliament for the Prison Service is the responsibility of the Cabinet Minster responsible for that service. He cannot shrug it off simply by saying that Sir John did not explicitly criticise the Home Secretary.
He was not asked to investigate the issue of political responsibility. It is politically irresponsible of the Secretary of State to imply, because of the absence of such a criticism, that he has been exonerated. It is the Home Secretary who is responsible for the state of affairs in the Prison Service. It is not good enough for him simply to shrug it off by sacking Mr. Derek Lewis, against whom I have no personal animus at all, and claiming that he has no responsibility.
If it is the case that we cannot secure parliamentary responsibility by our next steps agency system, so much the worse for the next steps agency system. If we can secure such parliamentary accountability and it is the Home Secretary who has been at fault, so much the worse for the Home Secretary. He is not let off the hook in any degree by this report.
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