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The personal adviser will consider each case individually and decide whether there should be an interview now, whether it should be deferred or waived altogether or whether it should take place in the home. The advisers will be extensively trained with the support of the professional voluntary organisations that relate to the area of our debate this evening. Where the client will not benefit, for example if he or she has a terminal illness, the interview will be waived; where it is not appropriate at the particular time, perhaps because the individual has just come out of hospital, it may be deferred until he or she is ready to think about the future. But in all these cases there is a real role for the personal adviser to sort out benefit claims and support and advise on a future plan of action to help out the individual and the carer, if there is one.
The crunch point between us is whether the interview should be compulsory or optional. The noble Baroness believes that most people who would benefit from an interview would take it up. That is not our experience in relation to the New Deal for lone parents where about three-quarters of those concerned do not respond to an invitation. However, of those who do respond, 88 per cent take up the invitation. That is a new voluntary scheme which is not well publicised and is still in its infancy. However, those who take up that invitation benefit from it. We are concerned about those who do not know what they do not know and miss out on the opportunities to learn.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes. Where it is voluntary those who already are fairly knowledgeable about the help on offer come forward, whereas those who are not fail to come forward. The latter are the ones in greatest need. The noble Earl makes my point better than I could myself.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It is not a success rate judged by whether somebody goes to work but by whether somebody is able to make an informed choice as to what to do. For example, based on experience under the New Deal, someone who fails to attend an interview, perhaps because of poor educational qualifications or because he or she lives in a poor and isolated estate and is unaware of the opportunities,
If, following the interview, people choose not to go to work because it is not appropriate for them, we agree with that choice; that is their choice which they have every right to make. But they cannot make that choice if they are not informed of the basis of it. For that reason, we believe it is right that, unless there is good reason either to defer or waive the interview, people should attend as part of the claims process. In that way, the remaining steps that they may want to take will be based on an informed choice which otherwise they may not be able to make.
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for her explanation. It will probably be difficult to reach an agreement on this matter. We firmly believe that certain people should be given the choice whether or not to attend an interview. That will relieve stress and fear and create a much more positive environment to help people to cope. We may return to this matter at a later stage. However, on the basis that the Minister has given a number of assurances this evening, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the latest annual report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons; and what developments there have been since the report was published.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have 10 minutes. That does not seem generous but it is far longer than the time allocated to the distinguished speakers who follow me, apart from the time available to the most eminent of all, the Minister. I am sorry that the other speakers may have to indulge in a series of soundbites when they have so much wisdom to offer us.
If I had been able to table this Motion a month ago, I would have been able to pay an almost unqualified tribute to the approach of the Government and the prison department under its new director. I would have had to qualify it to the extent that the size of the future prison population was, and still is, uncertain. I believe that it has been held down in recent times, but no one knows.
If I had been speaking a month ago, I would have said that the Government had the full confidence of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. I take this opportunity to say that the Chief Inspector of Prisons is one of the men I admire most in the country; another is his predecessor Judge Tumim. If I say that the present inspector is a man of the same quality, I cannot praise him any higher. However, he has the additional advantage of being a soldier, which means that people do not believe that he will be soft on crime. They might have thought that the other one was perhaps an artist. They are both wonderful men.
If I had been speaking a month ago, I would have paid an unqualified tribute. A good deal of tribute must still be paid. However, I should have had to point out the problem of the increase in prison population under the legislation now passed; no one knows what it will be. But that is all speculation.
In the past few weeks, we have been faced with something very unpleasant: the report on Wormwood Scrubs by the chief inspector. I warned the eminent Minister that I should refer to Wormwood Scrubs. Indeed, it comes under the scope of the Motion. I think that we can all agree that it is the most lamentable report on a prison that has been produced for many years. It is certainly the worst during my 50 years' experience of prison visiting. Are we to blame anyone in particular? In the House and elsewhere blame has been freely distributed and justly received. The department comes under censure, as do prison officers. But the Home Office has got off rather undeservedly lightly. When President Nixon was disgraced, he said that he would not grovel. I do not ask the Minister to grovel, but I think that a few humble words would be appropriate considering what a wretched show this is. The Home Office cannot avoid full responsibility.
Two years ago, the Chief Inspector of Prisons announced that that the situation in Wormwood Scrubs was deplorable. Two years later, he announced that it was rather worse. Someone is to blame in the mean while. One can blame the prison officers or the prison service, but the Home Office and Ministers cannot escape blame. It would be as well if they recognised that.
I take up one point. After the first report, there was a gap of six months when there was no governor in Wormwood Scrubs. Who was to blame for that? You may say, the prison governor, but one cannot absolve the Home Secretary from such a serious lapse. That is plain enough.
I recently praised highly the Home Secretary for a new approach, although I would not have done so a year earlier. That was before the Wormwood Scrubs report. I said that the moment for canonisation--treating him as a saint--had not quite arrived. In view of the report, there is even more reason to say that it has not yet arrived.
What are the Home Office and the prison service going to do? I believe that they will set out to do a lot of good things. All that they have said is excellent. I believe that the new chief inspector was given almost a standing ovation when he addressed prison officers recently. So a new mood has taken root. All that is encouraging, but let us at least admit past failures and do not let us try to put the blame on someone else.
What about the future? I must say one thing which will not make the Minister any fonder of me, but I have to risk that. Like everyone else who has been concerned with prisoners for any length of time, I am passionately opposed to privatisation of prisons. It seems to me that the Home Secretary and the Minister in this House are toying with moving in that direction. That is a total dereliction of duty on the part of those who seize people, rightly. The courts rightly convict people and lock them up, perhaps for years. Responsibility for those people remains with the Government. One cannot say to a prisoner, "I say, old chap, why don't you see the error of your ways and behave better?" He would say, "You're just acting for some commercial interest". It defeats the whole purpose of the prison system.
I have sought to be constructive. I have given the Minister a few hours' notice of this point. Is it not possible to try to establish a better relationship with the Prison Officers' Association? Alternatively, do the Government despair of them? Do they feel, "We can't do anything with the POA. We'll go for commercial interests"? I hope that the Minister will consider this point. I ventured to place it before him a few hours ago. There should be a representative of the Prison Officers' Association on the new strategic board. I think that that might be the beginning of a better relationship. I do not ask for an answer tonight.
I spoke recently too quickly and too crudely when I said that to be a prison officer was an appalling profession. It is an appallingly difficult profession, but, when all is said and done, I agree with what the Minister said: the great majority of prison officers approach the task in a noble spirit. I would rather leave that thought tonight.
The Home Secretary and the revered Minister here have a heavy responsibility. Few of us would be capable of discharging it. Years ago when someone had the idea of my being Home Secretary--it was not likely; I was in the House of Lords--my friend Evelyn Waugh wrote that it would be fatal if I were to become Home
Viscount Brentford: My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Earl for introducing the debate this evening. I am sure that I would not have read this annual report without having the target of speaking in the debate.
It is important for us to realise that, while many failures of the system are highlighted in the report, some good practices are being introduced. It was encouraging to see that. Some prisons are being run very well, although others are not.
I should like to ask the Minister questions on three specific points. I start with a restructuring proposal on page 21 of the report. My motive in asking the question is purely altruistic. This change would make the life of the Minister responsible for prisons immeasurably easier. I refer to the appointment of one director over one type of prison such as women's prisons or young people's prisons. What is the Government's view on that proposal?
Secondly, I turn to the subject of education, work skills and training for employment, a subject about which noble Lords have frequently talked over many years and which many of us believe is key to the future of the prison population. On page 11, one prison is mentioned which provides only 7 per cent of prisoners with education on each day. It is appalling that only 60 out of 860 prisoners can receive education. Bearing in mind that literacy and numeracy levels of the majority of people in prison are way below average, education is crucially important. The report also points out that 97 per cent of those leaving prison will be unemployed. It makes the valuable point, with which I fully agree, that securing a job, coupled with a home and a stable partnership, is the best combination for avoiding recidivism.
What are the Government's present plans for improving education and training for employment? In particular, should all prisoners at the outset, immediately after sentencing, complete an aptitude test similar to that taken by New Deal young prisoners? I feel that this would be very beneficial. Although it would cost money, it would make the training in prison much better focused. That should be additional to the education needs assessment which is recommended for each prison, but the results of these aptitude tests would surely contribute substantially to that needs assessment.
I should like warmly to commend Thorn Cross Youth Offenders Institution. It provides a 16-hour full, purposeful and active day, and young prisoners are responding to that regime. This will make an enormous difference. I want to end on that cheerful note.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, there are two aspects of the Chief Inspector's report to which I wish to draw attention. One is the matter of chaplaincy and the other is that of family centres in prisons for women. Both are emphasised by him and both are naturally of interest to the churches. I wish to refer to the ecumenical work which the churches are doing in both these areas.
In some prisons, such as Bristol, the chaplain has played a major role in dealing with bereaved relatives following a suicide, and that work is commended in the report. In my own city of Gloucester the review of the chaplaincy speaks of their
Secondly, there is the issue of visit centres. On page 40 of his report Sir David uses strong language about the way in which visitors are handled. He says that it is "frankly appalling" that at some prisons there are no facilities for visitors. He praises the way in which the voluntary sector, including, I might add, the Mothers' Union and the Bourne Trust, provides facilities for visitors, but he asks why it should be up to the voluntary sector to fund this. That question is echoed in an excellent new publication which was published recently by the Catholic Agency for Social Concern and entitled Women in Prison. I urge noble Lords to read this very good document. It calls for family visiting areas where families can stay overnight.
Two-thirds of women prisoners have children under the age of 16. In many cases these children have to make a very long journey to see their mother. After a visit which is often stressful and maybe to a prison with very few facilities, those children then have a very long return journey home on the same day. That, in effect, is
Lord Warner: My Lords, in his report Sir David Ramsbotham has a number of passages on young prisoners and the new Youth Justice Board that I chair. I wish to address my remarks to these aspects of his report.
In my judgment, Sir David has performed a notable public service in drawing our attention over a period of time to the poor conditions and regimes which far too many young offenders have been experiencing in recent years. He cites in his report episodes at Werrington and has drawn attention to some of the problems experienced by juveniles in Feltham. They reveal that reform is badly necessary. I should like to say a little about what the Youth Justice Board has been doing since Sir David wrote his report.
The Home Secretary--and I do not know whether this will qualify him in his bid for canonisation--has agreed in principle that from April 2000 the board should become responsible for the commissioning and purchasing of all places in the juvenile secure estate. That includes the 2,400 or so places used by juveniles in the Prison Service as well as those places occupied by young offenders in local authority secure accommodation and the secure training centres. This means that the board will actually hold the budget and let contracts for a specified number of places in particular facilities.
These contracts will relate as far as the Prison Service is concerned to facilities that are part of its new discrete juvenile secure estate within the service. The contracts will make detailed requirements of each facility on the standards to be met, including the types of regime to be provided. Without going into a great deal of detail, I can say quite unequivocally that those standards will be much higher than has often been provided in the past. The board's approach is to use contracting to ensure that individual facilities provide good quality education and training programmes for all young offenders, together with programmes that tackle effectively their offending behaviour. All young offenders need to spend far more time engaged in well-run programmes that provide a better prospect of them returning to the community without re-offending.
The board has provided Home Office Ministers with advice on how the new commissioning and purchasing arrangements would work in detail. My right honourable friend the Minister has been his usual helpful and supportive self in this process. My understanding is that our proposals are broadly endorsed by Ministers and will be published shortly for consultation. Taken together with the new national standards that the board has prepared for the new detention and training order that comes into operation next April, I believe that these new arrangements will produce far better outcomes for young offenders than in the past.
At this point I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the new Director General of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, has shown tremendous personal commitment to improving the regimes for young offenders. He has worked very constructively with the board in bringing forward these new arrangements.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for introducing the debate and for his admirable persistence. Between 1992 and April this year, the number of women in prison more than doubled to over 3,000. In 1997, the thematic review by the Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded that only 30 per cent of women prisoners posed a security risk and needed to be in a closed prison. The majority were sentenced for non-violent offences. In the opinion of the CASC Report, already quoted by the right reverend Prelate, they could reasonably be punished in the community. Many reach prison because of previous personal problems including placement in care, poor education, debt or addiction. The chief inspector found that many had previously suffered physical or sexual abuse.
It seems that a high proportion of women prisoners have urgent need of rehabilitation, yet the thematic review showed that 55 per cent received no help while in prison and that more than 70 per cent of those women considered that prison had a negative effect on them.
What is worse is that the negative effect on the children of women in prison must be even more severe. Almost two-thirds of the women in the 1997 survey had children under 16, with an average of just under three children each. The situation for mothers is aggravated by the location of women's prisons in the central, eastern and home counties. There is not a single women's prison in Wales or the four south-western counties. I therefore ask the Government: what is the result of their consideration of much greater use of suspended sentences, whether by themselves or in combination?
I also urge the Minister and his colleagues not to rule out day, night-time or weekend detention for women, not only mothers. When will the Court of Appeal issue new guidelines on the sentencing of women, as is its duty under the 1998 Act? Will the court distinguish between women who have the care of children and other women offenders? When will national guidance be issued following work by the Hereford and Worcester
Foreign nationals are an important category among women prisoners, amounting to some 15 per cent at the end of last January. I suggest that the maximum use be made of the European convention and of the bilateral arrangements so that as many as possible can serve the balance of their sentences in their countries of origin. Communication with their families overseas is always crucial. Therefore, it is important that governors should use their discretion to the full over free telephone calls and airmails.
I turn to a point which I understand will require legislation. In the Netherlands, a woman who has the care of dependent children can defer the start of any prison sentence while she makes the best possible arrangements for the care of those children. If the Dutch can do it, why cannot our courts have a similar discretion? The Minister knows that a simple one-page Bill has already been drafted for that purpose. Can he confirm that such a provision will appear in the earliest possible piece of government legislation? In that context, how is the Prison Service review of mothers and children in prison progressing? When will it be published?
I return to my starting point. The number of women in prison needs to be reduced as there is scant evidence that the increase in sentencing has reduced crime. Alternatives to custody need to be developed, and rehabilitation both inside and outside prison should be greatly improved. I welcome last year's appointment of an assistant director of regimes for women and the establishment of a women's policy group. I trust that the Minister will give us further good news tonight about the much needed humanising of the present unsatisfactory state of imprisonment for women.
It is clear from the chief inspector's annual report that having found much inconsistency in the treatment of prisoners he favours major changes to the structure of the Prison Service. As my noble friend Lord Brentford says, he believes that a better service would be delivered if directors were appointed to groups of like prisons. He cites the dispersal prison directorate in support of his view. He looks for a greater commitment to line management delivering cost-effective outcomes and much less emphasis on area staff functions. Will he carry the day? I doubt it. For deep is not calling for deep.
Sir David values management whereas the service values administration. Where he looks for results, it pursues processes. How otherwise do we explain Feltham and Wormwood Scrubs? That divide is evident in the contrasting styles of his reports and theirs.
In seeking a better way forward, we need again to face up to the question: can we have within the public service a division between the responsibility for policy and that for day-to-day management? Herbert Morrison certainly believed that we could, but now we seem to have lost it--although not with the BBC. There are other public sector examples; the heritage Act institutions having their incorporated boards of trustees. However, those examples did not persuade the Home Affairs Committee whose conclusion, which gained the Government's agreement was:
We cannot have it both ways: either we want to find a dividing line or we do not. Either Ministers play an integral part in management undertaken by their department, or Parliament delegates that responsibility to a separate incorporated body.
As I see it, there are now three options: first, to leave things as they are, which is not the chief inspector's choice and I agree with him; secondly, to watch the steady transfer of prisons into the contracted-out system, which I see as an admission of defeat although the dividing line is very clear; and, thirdly, to legislate for a clear division between policy and day-to-day management by the creation--or is it the re-creation?--of a statutory Prison Service separate from the Home Office. That would meet Sir David's views, realistically improve the Government's accountability to Parliament and enable the Prison Service to manage its own future. Even the Prime Minister's current frustrations might be assuaged. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he is indeed a supporter of the third way.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, not for the first time the House is indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for being given the opportunity to revisit problems which have been well discussed. I am a supporter of the chief inspector. He has produced an authoritative report. It is full of information and details many good and disturbing issues. It provides a timely opportunity for all sides to reflect on the situation. I urge co-operation rather than confrontation. My noble friend the Minister has an opportunity to put at rest some uneasy minds on the Home Office's view of its future relationship with the prisons.
I visited 32 prisons during my seven years as a consultant to the Prison Officers' Association. The overwhelming majority of prison officers are decent, professional and humane. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to this year's annual meeting of the POA, which I attended because it was the 60th anniversary. I endorse the excellent reception given to Martin Narey, who made a big impression not just on the members, who listened to his speech soberly and carefully, but on my good self.
Many prison officers are frustrated and exasperated by recent events. They want no part in many of the allegations that have been made. It is grossly unfair to support the tendency that tars all prison officers with the same brush. Society deals with criminals fairly, humanely and justly. However, once the prison doors are closed, both people who have committed the most heinous crimes and feckless unfortunates are locked in and the prison officers have to live with them for many hours of the day. Prison officers should be congratulated on doing one of society's dirty jobs.
I welcome the fact that the Government view imprisonment as an integral part of the criminal justice system. That is vital. I also support the Home Secretary's five objectives for the creation of a coherent prison strategy: to house the prison population safely; to protect the public; to develop constructive regimes; to use resources more efficiently in the public and private sectors; and to improve the effectiveness of the organisation. That signals a welcome change of attitude to enable the staff to be more involved in shaping the future of the prison service.
I am not making a plea, but I hope that my noble friend the Minister will reassure many people outside the House that this could be the beginning of a dialogue involving prison officers, prison governors, prison visitors and prisoners to help the Government to create a better penal estate. We are indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and to the chief inspector and I wish my noble friend the Minister well in his difficult task.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, how fortunate we are to have such a good director general of the Prison Service in Martin Narey and such an outspoken and independent chief inspector of prisons in Sir David Ramsbotham. To spare his blushes, I should also like to add that we have a remarkably good prisons Minister in the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn.
Sir David's 1997-98 report was more optimistic than many in recent years. His optimism was based partly on the Government's encouragement of the greater use of community sentences and the release of prisoners under electronic tagging. Sir David said that those moves could have a real impact on overcrowding in prisons--a scourge with which the Prison Service has been afflicted for too long. He was also encouraged by the Government's plan to improve the treatment of juveniles in the prison system and by the additional £660 million to be made available to the Prison Service over the next three years as a result of the comprehensive spending review.
We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who identified the present level of the prison population and some of the associated problems. We hope that the Government's plans will lead to improvements in the prison system, including a reduction in the pressure of numbers. Even though the prison population has fallen from its peak of 66,550 in July 1998, it still stands at nearly 65,000, which is 60 per cent higher--and in the case of women prisoners 137 per cent higher--than at the end of 1992.
The rising prison population is due not to an increase in the number of offenders appearing before the courts, but to harsher sentencing. At all courts, the proportion of adult offenders convicted for indictable offences who were sentenced to immediate custody rose from 16 per cent in 1992 to 25 per cent in 1997. It is a shame that the current prison population of around 64,000 means that this country has 122 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the general population. That compares with 110 in Spain, 90 in France and Germany, 85 in Italy and Holland, 80 in Belgium, 65 in Denmark, 60 in Sweden, 55 in Norway and 50 in Greece. In the whole of western Europe, only Portugal gaols a higher proportion of its population than we do. The disproportionately high number of prisoners from ethnic minority communities is a further issue.
Regrettably, the welcome scheme for the early release of selected prisoners under electronic tagging has not produced the size of reduction in the prison population that the Government had hoped for. On 2nd July there were 1,969 people under home detention curfews who would otherwise have been in prison--about half of the Government's original estimate of 4,000. Why are the numbers so low and what steps are being taken to increase the number of suitable prisoners released under electronic tagging?
A number of noble Lords have identified many of the important requirements. We welcome the steps that the Government and the Prison Service have taken and are planning. We particularly welcome the extra £660 million made available under the comprehensive spending review over three years for additional prison capacity and to clear the backlog of urgent repairs and maintenance. However, the prospects for developing constructive prison regimes would be greatly improved if the trend of the past six years towards markedly more punitive sentences were arrested and reversed.
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