moved Amendment No. 75:
After Clause 21, insert the following new clause-
"Children subject to ASBO proceedings
Sections 1(10D) and (10E) (anti-social behaviour orders) and 1C(9C) (orders in conviction in criminal proceedings) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) are repealed."
My Lords, the amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone.
For 70 years the law has made it quite clear that for children involved in criminal proceedings the expectation is that reporting restrictions will not be lifted except in exceptional circumstances. In recent years, the Government have introduced legislation so that for children involved in anti-social behaviour order proceedings there is an expectation that reporting restrictions will be lifted except in exceptional circumstances. The effect of the amendment would be to reverse the situation to the status quo ante, where it stood for 70 years.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, for his helpful reply in Committee. He recognised the concerns about the welfare of these children and gave a very balanced analysis of the problem, drawing on his experience of being a leader of a local authority where these problems arise.
The purpose of bringing this back on Report is to hear further from the Minister on the support for families and children given these orders. The work that the Government are doing to support families is encouraging, but as we established in Committee only slightly more than 1 per cent of parents with these children were given parenting orders. Given that these orders were so effective, it seemed surprising and disappointing that those families were not being supported in that way.
The Minister countered by saying that each child was given a needs assessment, but we know from experience elsewhere that it is all very well sometimes to provide an assessment of needs but it is the services that follow and the resources that are provided that matter. Of particular concern is that significant numbers of the children are under the age of 15 and they can be as young as 10. It was quite clear from the response given by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that very often the names and photographs of children as young as 12 would be publicised in the local community, sometimes in a leaflet and sometimes in the local media. Tabloids have picked up the photographs of children as young as 12 and publicised them in their coverage.
It is most encouraging to hear the Government's progress with the "respect" action plan to counter anti-social behaviour. For instance, the Prime Minister said this summer:
"The 'hardest to reach' families are often the ones we need to reach most".
He went on to say that there is a requirement for earlier intervention with some of these families, who are often socially excluded and socially dysfunctional. It was encouraging to hear the statement by the Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes, about the pilot schemes she has launched in 20 local authorities, targeting parents of eight to 13 year-olds with the most disruptive behaviour. Brighton and Hove's local authority features in that.
The general sense is that the Government's policy in this area is moving in a positive direction, but I regret that, over the eight years that these orders have been in place, no attempt has been made, as far as I can see, to determine what the impact has been on these children and their siblings of having their identities publicised in the local areas. That causes us great concern, particularly, as we heard in Committee, when some of these children have disabilities, learning difficulties, Asperger's syndrome and so on. Two-thirds of these children have their cases heard in adult courts. It was only in February this year that guidance was sent out that magistrates in such courts should have training in youth justice matters to assess those sensitive cases. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister, either later or in writing, what monitoring has been taking place of how effectively that guidance is being implemented. These children's cases are reviewed after one year. That has recently been introduced, and is very welcome. Again, I would appreciate how that is being monitored.
These are complex matters. It is extremely difficult to draw the balance between the welfare and the rights of these children and the terrible impact their behaviours can have on their communities. I look to the Minister to provide more assurance on how the Government are supporting these children and families. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support this amendment regarding reporting restrictions on children with ASBOs. We tabled this amendment in Committee, and we shall of course support it again. When I spoke to it then, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, started his reply by saying he had heard me make this sort of speech before—in other words: I would say this, wouldn't I? Well, I have not changed my view, and I fear the Government will not have changed theirs either.
I persist in believing that children who breach an ASBO should not be named and shamed in the press. Mine is not a lone voice. The very distinguished chairman of the Youth Justice Board, Professor Rod Morgan, has spoken out eloquently against the practice, as have the CEO of Barnardo's, who is an ex-director of the Prison Service; Napo, which has compiled a dossier on some of the damaging outcomes for children with neurological disorders such as Asperger's, ADD or Tourette's; and the Council of Human Rights commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles, to name but a few. The arguments have not materially changed.
We know that the Government themselves, in a response to a Question in the other place, have admitted that they know little of the characteristics or circumstances of children issued with ASBOs. Perhaps they do not care all that much, as they have no way of knowing who it is affecting or how. We also know, however, that all childcare professionals are aware that there is overwhelming evidence that labelling children is damaging and counterproductive. It does not stop bad behaviour, since demonising children tends to reinforce the behaviour and will give a few some status with their peers, and we know that negative publicity tends to increase anxiety in the public at large, rather than promoting the understanding and good will that are so desperately needed by all concerned.
I declare an interest as chair of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. We have found that it is when local communities engage with the young people who are running into trouble and play a part in the decision-making for such children, or when they are involved in such initiatives as local crime and disorder strategies—a requirement for local involvement—both attitudes and behaviour change. First-hand knowledge of people and their circumstances has made a great deal of difference for both young and old. Nothing is achieved by promoting fear and loathing.
All that is proposed here is that the presumption of reporting restrictions is reinstated, which still leaves the court the option of publicising cases where it sees it to be useful or beneficial. It is a small but vital matter of judgment and emphasis, and one that can make an enormous difference to the lives of the people involved. I hope the Government might be prepared to consider their position this time.
My Lords, I fear we could be treading the same ground as we have trodden before. No matter; I shall press on. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on their contributions. They contribute to an important debate about the impact of anti-social behaviour orders, and they quite properly ask questions about impact and effectiveness. It is an important part of the debate that we consider those issues.
That said, I come back to the point I have made before on several occasions, that I think our approach is ultimately the best one. It is for the court to determine, and to give reasons why it thinks it right, that publicity is given in some cases, in the circumstances we envisage. I do not agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has to say, although I am interested. I would be very interested to read some of the cases to which she has referred, because they are important. I know from personal experience that when I talk to local residents in my own community, they think we have got the balance about right.
I was interested in the noble Baroness's description of some of those difficult cases where people have Asperger's or an attention deficit syndrome problem—ADD and so on—and I recognise the importance of giving careful consideration to whether publicity should be given in those cases. Earlier in the year I saw a local case reported where the juvenile concerned was suffering from a syndrome. Interestingly, the publicity had had a beneficial effect, because it made local residents rather more aware of that syndrome as an issue, and I think it led to a situation where the court carefully considered exactly what should go on from a finding in the court, and what sort of treatment should be in place to support that young person in the community.
ASBOs are community orders, and I think it right that the needs of the local community should be equally balanced against those of the young person. Although, as I have made plain, the welfare of the young person should be fully and properly considered, it is, of course, not ultimately the principal purpose of the order, which is to bring relief to the local community. That must be properly considered. Publicity of proceedings is often an integral part of the local agencies' efforts to tackle anti-social behaviour, although it is important that we do not name and shame for the sake of it.
ASBOs are made in open court, and, unless the court imposes restrictions, the media are fully entitled to report them, even if they involve young people. It is for the court to decide whether or not to impose reporting restrictions, but the court also recognises that these cases sometimes—perhaps often—need to be reported, for two reasons: first, to help the local community and the victims of anti-social behaviour, who know that something positive has been done to stop the abuse and that someone has responded to a problem that members of the local community have experienced; and secondly, to publicise fully the prohibitions so that the community can help to enforce the order.
Publicity is not to punish or shame the individual. We need to remember that the anti-social behaviour of juveniles—and indeed of adults—made subject to an ASBO will have a serious and lasting effect on people's lives. The needs of such individuals must be balanced with those of the community who have a right to be protected.
The courts can still impose reporting restrictions if they believe that the situation warrants it because there is a requirement on them to have regard to the welfare of the child or young person. We believe that the existing legal framework is working well in practice.
We are, of course, aware of the Youth Justice Board's research into ASBOs and children. I cannot provide more information to your Lordships' House today on the fruits of that research but, as I have said, I shall reflect further on the concerns that the noble Baroness and the noble Earl have raised. I shall write to both of them and share that correspondence with others who have taken part in the debates. It is right that we examine criticisms carefully and balance those against the needs of local communities and have regard to the research that has been conducted on ASBOs. We want to make sure that they are effective. I do not think that it is in anyone's interest not to do that. As the debate has moved on and people have recognised the importance of ASBOs, it is important that we understand their effect and impact. We need to reflect on the impact on the individuals involved.
I hope that your Lordships will not be seduced into accepting the amendment, which is attractive from the perspective of the noble Baroness and the noble Earl. I encourage the noble Earl to withdraw it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his customary careful and balanced response. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, for highlighting the concerns about some of these children. The majority of them are seen in the adult courts and there has been much concern that those courts have not been equipped to deal sensitively with them. There have been important improvements recently. We need to ensure that those improvements and guidance are monitored and that they are properly implemented. I hope that in the correspondence that the Minister has kindly offered to send us we shall hear more about that. The publication of the Youth Justice Board's report at the end of the month will be extremely welcome and will inform useful further debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 22 [Parenting contracts: local authorities and registered social landlords]:
[Amendment No. 76 not moved.]
Clause 23 [Parenting orders: local authorities and registered social landlords]:
[Amendments Nos. 77 to 83 not moved.]
Clause 24 [Contracting out of local authority functions with regard to parenting contracts and parenting orders]:
[Amendments Nos. 84 to 86 not moved.]
Clause 27 [Appointment of Chief Inspector]:
My Lords, in Committee I agreed to withdraw the amendment, encouraged by the Minister who said that during the summer the Government would look in more detail at the proposals of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and that she hoped and expected to table government amendments on Report to address the concerns that had been raised. She also said that, like the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the new chief inspector, not Ministers, would continue to be able to set the criteria for inspections and gave assurance that prison inspection would be based on domestic and human rights standards rather than on service standards or government targets.
I was disappointed, first, that the Minister could not meet me during the Recess to discuss the amendments and, secondly, that the government amendments have not satisfied either the proposals of the Joint Committee or the concerns that were expressed or spelt out, and in particular that the Minister's undertakings are not included in them. Only two of the six guarantees of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, required by the Joint Committee have been satisfied. Government Amendment No. 93 covers the fact that inspections must be based on visits and government Amendment No. 97 covers unannounced inspections, but none of the characteristics of independent inspection of prisons of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has been satisfied; in other words, what I always regarded as the particular strengths of the position of the independent Chief Inspector of Prisons—namely, that you had the right to go anywhere unannounced and the right to set your own criteria, that there would be no reduction in a programme of regular inspections and that you reported directly to the Home Secretary and the public—are to be diminished.
I have explained before to this House that the inspection of the treatment of and conditions for prisoners is not about value for money. By the same token the inspection of prisons is not the same as the inspection of the management of individual offenders. It is the inspection of a community that is a prison and whether the various parts of it are fit for purpose. The prison and probation inspectorates are currently looking at how this might be done in the same spirit in which the inspectorates have worked together since 1996 on subjects that involve more than two of them. In the case of prisons, this includes health, education, drugs treatment and many other subjects not covered by any of the inspectorates that are subject to this proposal.
The new criminal justice inspectorate in Northern Ireland already provides a precedent for what I am saying, leaving prisons out of that merger and contracting the inspection of the prisons in Northern Ireland to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector—the acknowledged expert. The purpose of my amendment is to save the Government from repeating a failure of six years ago. They have tried to go down this merger route before. This is not a Home Office proposal resulting from a detailed study related to this Bill, but the Home Office putting flesh on the bones of wider direction—merging 11 public sector inspectorates into four—contained in the Chancellor's 2005 Budget speech.
In May 2000 the Home Office tried to merge the prisons and probation inspectorates and dropped the proposal six months later because it realised that it made no sense at all to merge them until the prison and probation services had been merged. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will no doubt remember having to admit to this House that no one was in favour of that proposal. Now it proposes to merge five inspectorates and five different functions working to three separate Secretaries of State. In Committee the Minister talked about the justice inspectorate, but there is not a single justice system working to a single justice Minister, although I am one of those who think that there should be. Unless and until there is, it seems to me to make no more sense to merge these five different inspectorates than it was to merge the two which at least had to work together on some of their responsibilities.
There is also a worrying lack of clarity about when this is to take place. In Committee the Minister told us that the Government would stage the transition of the new inspectorate and not abolish the Chief Inspector of Prisons until they were satisfied that the new chief inspector was ready effectively to carry out the prisons inspection duty. But a week before that the Home Secretary said that the post of Chief Inspector of Prisons would be abolished in March 2008 at the end of Miss Owers's contract. There is a conflict here and I should like to know which is right.
Two weeks ago I was interviewed by head-hunters who are looking for what the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, described in a previous debate as a superhuman being—the new chief inspector. The head-hunters are looking for someone who can speak with first-hand experience of inspecting 140 prisons, can advise 50 chief constables on personnel as well as operational matters, knows the intricacies of the Crown Prosecution, courts and probation services, is able to deal with three Secretaries of State and 10 other Ministers, can balance limited budget resources between five separate operations each of which has a full programme, has time to read and edit more than 300 reports each year and can carry out the media, official and representational tasks currently undertaken by five people in three ministries. The net effect will be that because no one person could possibly do this the chief inspector will either have to delegate tasks to the deputy currently doing them or take him or her with him to provide first as opposed to second-hand evidence. But this, of course, is the very duplication that the Government say they are trying to avoid.
I wish to make two points on the subject of duplication. First, there is no duplication at present between any of the five inspectorates. Any duplication in this area is between the plethora of regulators and auditors, many of them introduced by this Government. Secondly, where is the single immigration regulator, announced in July in the Home Office paper Fair, Effective, Transparent and Trusted, to sit? Is this to be a fifth inspectorate? Is it to be included in the proposed merger that we are discussing? Is it to take over the responsibilities of the inspectorate of prisons listed in the Bill? Is it to be the independent monitor required under the optional protocol and not included in the government amendments? If so, will that independence satisfy the joint committee of the United Nations?
The disastrous introduction of the National Offender Management Service should have provided a salutary lesson on the dangers of introducing theories before they have been properly thought through and evaluated. The Minister has talked about a joined-up offender management demanding a new type of inspection. However, less than half of the 80,000 in prison are serving sentences that include probation supervision, and less than half of the over 250,000 offenders in the hands of the probation service have come from prison. Therefore, only a minority of offenders are subject to the main direction of NOMS. By the same token, only 20 per cent of police time is connected with the criminal justice system, with the remaining 80 per cent being devoted to the prevention of crime; and yet there is no definition in the Bill of what community safety means.
In July, the National Audit Office published a paper called Wider Lessons for Public Sector Mergers of Regulatory Agencies. There are 15 recommendations, one of which does not apply to this merger because it is about retirement pay. As far as I can see, however, all the other 14 recommendations have been ignored. I will quote just two:
"Base the decision ... on a balanced judgement of whether the projected benefits justify the costs of carrying out the merger", and,
"Ensure there is a plan to mitigate the risks of disruption to business as usual and the interests of stakeholders".
In the case of the inspection of prisons, the stakeholders include the public. It is no good assuming that what is proposed is do-able because some of what is being done should not be done. In the case of the prisons inspectorate, I ask what should not be done. I have to admit that I always overspent my budget every year, because I could not do what was required of me with what I had been given. Now there is to be less with which to do more, so the business is to be disrupted. I explain that by the fact that there are to be transitional costs of some £2.2 million, which are to be taken out of the existing inspectorates' budgets, and that means that what they will be able to do will be reduced. In addition, the prisons inspectorate is now to be required to inspect prison cells, court cells and transport. If it has to do that it needs extra resources, but if it is not given the resources it will have to cut down the existing programme, which is not something that the public would welcome.
The prison system is, as we all know, in crisis. In Committee, the Minister described it as being "of superb construction". Well, that construction has proved unequal to the task, and in addition the director-general has admitted in public that several thousand prison officers are corrupt. Throughout my time as chief inspector, my chief concern was that there was a difference between the facts that I was disclosing in my inspections and the data given to Ministers by officials and official sources. Both I and my successor have commented on this many times, largely on the grounds that you cannot make sound decisions based on fudged and inaccurate data.
Let us just look at the last inspection of Pentonville, quoted in the most powerful article by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in the Observer on Sunday. He quoted the lack of basic requirements, including vermin infestation and complaints about assaults and bad treatment of staff. He did not, however, mention one other complaint that the inspector mentioned, namely that the food ran out during lunch—the only hot meal of the day. For me, the two worst aspects of the report were, first, that there was no supportive first-night strategy, and night staff did not know the location of new arrivals, which suggests to me that all is not well about suicide prevention despite the assurances that we are given. Secondly, unemployed prisoners, who represented half the population, had only an average of 2.5 hours out of cell, while employed prisoners were out for about seven hours. The average across the prison was five hours, which is far less than the over eight hours that the prison was reporting. I mention that because I wonder whether under the proposed new regime those sorts of uncomfortable details will be allowed to be published.
As a soldier, I learnt that at times of crisis the one thing that you need above all is timely, accurate information. The current crisis has come about in part because the Government have failed to listen to timely, accurate information provided by their one independent and objective source—the independent prisons inspectorate. But you don't shoot the messenger just because you don't like the message.
All Members of this House admire not only the Minister's ability but also her unswerving loyalty to her party's line. Never having been a member of a political party, I speak as an informed member of the public, knowing that what is being proposed is, as has been said to me in a letter, nothing more and nothing less than dangerous nonsense whose practicalities and consequences have not been properly thought through. Were I the Minister, particularly at a time of crisis such as our prisons are going through now, the last thing that I would want to lose would be my one source of objective, independent information. Protest though the Minister undoubtedly will, a Deputy Chief Inspector of Justice, Community Safety and Custody (Prisons) who is subordinate to a chief inspector, subject to the direction of 13 different Ministers and required to have regard to such aspects of government policy as Ministers in three separate ministries may direct, simply is not as independent as the current stand-alone Chief Inspector of Prisons. I repeat sentiments that the Minister will recall were expressed from every side of the House in Committee, in the hope of preventing the Government from committing an act of wilful and unnecessary destruction of a beacon of our criminal justice system. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches have a particular interest in this matter. These Benches are the seat of people who, from the beginning of the modern prison service, have had the right to enter and inspect. That right was exercised by the Lords Spiritual because of a recognition that you cannot do anything more serious to anybody than deprive them of their liberty, and that that act itself is completely unique in the relations between the state and the subject. It deserves careful and independent scrutiny, and that scrutiny is of the first importance to be maintained. Of course, no one on these Benches today would wish to suggest that we return to the custom that the only source of independent inspection should be diocesan bishops, because we all recognise that that work these days requires independence, professionalism and resources. That does not mean that we do not continue to have an interest in this area of work, and all my colleagues share with me as bishop to prisons a concern that this feature of our prisons regime should be sustained.
I am even more astonished than I am outraged by this government proposal. I am astonished because it seems to be depriving the Government of one of the sources not only of independent judgment—as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said—but of public support for those aspects of crime reduction that have most engaged the Minister's committed attention. She has rightly asked representatives of the faith communities, the voluntary sector and commercial organisations to join with the Government in giving assistance to ensuring that people who have offended are enabled to make the best possible transition to society. There is no stronger ally of the Government in that respect than the chief inspector who examines prisons precisely to ensure that they are fit for the purpose of returning people to society with the best chance of not reoffending.
How does the chief inspector become such a formidable ally of the Minister and her concerns? The chief inspector does so by her direct and prestigious access to public media. The chief inspectors that we have had—sparing the blushes of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, himself—are remarkable examples of what happens when you have a highly competent, committed, objective and serious person inhabiting an office of enormous public prestige under the Crown. That is what is required of that person—to gain access to the public media and to gain publicity for the main recommendations of the inspectorate's reports. It is simply not conceivable that a subordinate official of the enormous inspectorate that the Government are thinking of creating will have that kind of access.
We should be clear that we are talking about abolition and not merger here, because there will never again be, if this provision passes into law, a Chief Inspector of Prisons. The result will be that the public sympathy and interest which have been gained during the time of the past office holders will simply disappear.
I am astonished that the Minister, who has such a strong commitment to the rehabilitative purposes of the criminal justice system in general and of prisons in particular, should be prepared to lose that element of support in this work. In the process she has managed to alienate, as far as I am aware, every person and responsible organisation that has invested attention in prison reform—something to which she is also committed. She has lost the sympathy of faith groups, communities and Churches that, on the basis of that commitment, have been prepared to enter into the faith alliances that she has promoted, because we now suspect that the Government's attitude to prison reform is far more detached and cynical than we had supposed.
This situation is of the greatest seriousness. I urge the Minister to think again, and I urge your Lordships seriously to consider supporting the amendment in a Division and standing firmly by it in the subsequent stages of the Bill.
My Lords, faithful to the mention made by the Chancellor in his Budget speech that the Government were minded to move to a single inspectorate, the Bill now provides for the inspectorates of prisons, police, the Courts Service, the CPS and the National Probation Service to be clustered under a single chief inspector. I cannot help thinking that that curious clustering would form a good task for a simple aptitude test. The question would be: "Identify the incongruous item". It would have to be a simple test, because the odd one out in that list stands out so plainly as the inspectorate of prisons. None of the other four services looks at what we do to and for people who are locked away out of sight, out of hearing and generally out of mind. That is a distinct characteristic to which the right reverend Prelate referred.
Our collective responsibility for that service is in a wholly different class. Exactly because of the characteristics of prison, we need to have confidence that it has an independent inspectorate that will tell it as it is—prison by prison and establishment by establishment; not in a manner that is glossed over by reference to the problems and performance of some other responsibility with which it is said by Ministers to exist end-to-end. Such an inspectorate of independence we now have.
Once the bald facts are in the open in a report, then by all means let the excuses, explanations and justifications be made. But let them not temper the reporting in the first place under the inevitable influence of a chief inspector who was put there to achieve an end-to-end report, and who is to be subject to ministerial direction into the bargain. He will know what is expected of him.
"we need an inspection regime that looks at the offender management regime from start to finish through custodial and community settings".
Shortly afterwards, a very shrewd and simple question was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, who was sitting behind the Minister. The noble Baroness said:
"The department seems to be saying that everything that the Chief Inspector of Prisons now does will remain with the new inspector. My worry is that there are four other inspectorates that this super-human being will have to look after. I cannot really see how that is going to work".
The reply by the Minister occupies the next 22 lines. While they deserve to be read, they are too long for me to cite now; but the upshot of the argument is in the last four lines. The Minister said that,
"the important thing is that what the inspectorate actually does—the independence and the rigour and vigour of the current prison inspectorate should not be diminished. It should be enhanced. That is our aspiration".—[Hansard, 6/7/06; col. 460-61.]
I could possibly share that aspiration, but not the expectation; nor, I guess, can many people share it in the light of what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said in that debate. She said:
"I have not met anyone who sees any sense in this proposal".—[Hansard, 6/7/06; col. 452.]
In the criminal justice system, the noble Baroness scarcely wanders alone—knowing no one, discussing nothing. If the Government will not heed the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, then let them heed her.
My Lords, I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words in this debate. Mention has already been made of the Prison Reform Trust and the role of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in chairing that organisation. Although I do not think that it is a declarable interest, I would like to say to the House that I am chairing a Prison Reform Trust project involving work with prisoners with learning disabilities and learning difficulties.
I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, whom I had the pleasure of working with during my brief tenure of office as prisons Minister. One of the points he made is one about which I too am concerned—that this proposal does not seem to involve a very clear line of communication between the inspectorate and the relevant Ministers, because of the jumbo nature of the new organisation. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can reassure us about the lines of communication between the inspectors and the relevant Ministers who will be most concerned with the subjects under consideration.
I would be grateful also if my noble friend could provide current cost estimates. When organisations are changed, considerable costs can be incurred. I would like to be assured that, in the short term, the costs of this operation will not exceed the benefits. Perhaps she can also provide estimates of long-term savings and say what constitutes "long-term" in that regard.
I share the concern that many people have expressed about any compromise of independence. I believe that the independence of the current inspectorate arrangements is a very important aspect. I, too, pay tribute to the work done by the current inspector of prisons, as well as that done by the previous distinguished occupants of that position.
I hope that the Minister will be able to resist some of the doom and gloom about the present situation in prisons. Perhaps I could share with the House an experience that I had during the summer, when I visited a prison—the young offender institute in Deerbolt in County Durham—that I had previously visited some nine years ago, when I was Minister. I was greatly impressed both by the changes to the physical infrastructure of that establishment and by the great improvements in the sense of purpose, the regimes and the innovative programmes that were being pursued. So I do not simply accept the description of our prison system as being in crisis. I think that a lot of good progress has been made in recent years and I say to my noble friend that, because of such developments, I am generally happy with the Government's approach to prison issues and penal reform. However, on this issue, I will have to listen very carefully to her reply to this debate.
My Lords, who will rid me of this troublesome inspectorate? That was a thought that I often had when I was Minister for prisons. Its reports caused me some anxiety from time to time but, looking back, I am extremely grateful to it and think that it did an excellent job. Perhaps I should therefore support the Government's proposal to get rid of the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
I was the first Minister to visit a prison unannounced. It was an amazing experience. Not only was I welcomed by the prison officer at the gate, who rang the governor and said, "There's a guy here who says he's the Minister for prisons and won't go away", but I found that to go into a prison totally announced was very different from my normal visits to prisons.
The Minister will argue that of course that situation will be retained. However, I put to your Lordships three things that will not be retained. One is the finance for the inspectorate, which undoubtedly will be trimmed, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. Secondly, if the prisons inspectorate is joined with other inspectorates, the key element of independence and objectivity will be minimised. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the standing of the prisons inspectorate in the eyes of Ministers and of the public will be severely reduced. For those reasons, I cannot support what the Government propose and will support the amendment.
My Lords, I will just intervene briefly. I had a long conversation with my noble friend on the telephone yesterday morning and listened to her put forward all the arguments that we shall no doubt hear later. I promised to think very carefully about them. I have thought very carefully about them and I am afraid to say that I am not persuaded, the more so now because I have heard some excellent speeches this evening, which have demolished the Government's case. I do not think that I am regarded as a member of the awkward squad, but one does not have to be a member of the awkward squad to say that the Government have got this one wrong.
I have three brief points. First, the crisis in the prison population suggests that this is the last moment to be tampering with what is one of the great traditions in Britain—an independent inspectorate that has shown robustness and integrity and has been willing to say things that are uncomfortable for Governments. I always thought that it was a great tribute to successive Governments and prison Ministers that they have had such an independent inspector of prisons. Indeed, that has been part of the way in which we have managed a very difficult area of life.
Secondly, like others who have spoken, I believe that the role of the Chief Inspector of Prisons is different in kind from the role of the other inspectors—so different that I think to merge them is not sensible.
Finally, our reputation internationally rests on a number of key features of British life. I suggest that the way in which we have inspected our prisons, with a real sense of independence, has sent an important message to other countries where things are not done that way. People in other countries look, sometimes with admiration, at the way in which we have managed prison inspection, so it would be a sad day if we said to the world, "No, this is coming to an end".
My Lords, I have the greatest sympathy for the present Minister for prisons, who is in a position very close to the one that I was in when I came to the Home Office in 1982. Very soon, I had a chart on the wall to show how many places were left before we had to use executive release to make room for more prisoners to come in. We got down to 11 places at one time, and that was using the bridewells and police cells as well. It is no good saying that there is not a crisis. There is a crisis. To try to manage that crisis at the same time as reorganising an important element of what you are doing seems to me to savour of not very sensible thinking.
I share the astonishment of the right reverend Prelate, not for the reasons that he gave but because, despite the fact that I continually hear the Government say how anxious they are to decentralise, we have here a great accrual of directive power to the central authority in exactly the opposite direction. It is rather like pressing the button for No. 2 when you get in the lift on the Principal Floor and saying, "I'm going down"; it is the reverse of what is happening.
The damage that will be done by this is considerable, as has been powerfully put already. I speak only because I spent a year as Minister for the probation service and three years as Minister for prisons and my silence might be taken as a lack of concern for what is afoot. I am deeply concerned. Whatever words of assurance are given, your Lordships should read the Bill and still try to believe that, in future, the person responsible for inspecting prisons will be in any sense independent. It is simply incredible. He will be subordinate to someone who is in turn subject to ministerial direction. That is two layers that do not exist now to cloak what he is able to bring out.
Finally, I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said in a most powerful speech. A Minister is the prisoner of his civil servants when it comes to receiving information. The only other sources are hearsay and newspaper reports unless you have an independent inspector to do that job for you. In the circumstances in which we now understand prison staff work, that is an absolutely essential connection of the Minister to reality. Connecting to the public also gives the Minister muscle in Cabinet or in departmental meeting, because the public become aware of what is wrong and want something to be done about it—as do we. Let us not stop that happening by passing this ridiculous part of the Bill.
My Lords, my name is on a number of these amendments, so I would like to speak. However, I should first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of his speech. I was so busily caught up with these few words that the debate crept up on me.
I am saddened and disappointed to be making this speech because, after our July debate, I genuinely believed that we would be able to reach some agreement on the prisons inspectorate. However, that has not materialised. The Government's aim to bring together the various organisations to make the criminal justice system more streamlined is fine by me; I have no problems with that. However, to achieve this, I can see no necessity for the prisons inspectorate to be subsumed within this mass of other inspectorates. I, too, believe that the prisons inspectorate is different. It alone deals with the conditions in which prisoners exist, a matter that I believe must be judged as one of the cornerstones of progress in any civilised society.
I am afraid that, for once, Hansard got it wrong in July. It was me who spoke in the debate on this matter and not my noble friend Lady Billingham. We are sometimes mixed up, even when we go to pay what we owe in the Dining Room. I said in the debate that I believed that whoever headed this proposed new inspectorate would need to be superhuman. After the Home Secretary's Statement to the other place yesterday, I believe that that is even more the case.
We are told that we are to have more prisons. Prisons are to be recategorised to accommodate prisoners that they were never meant to house. There is going to be maximum flexibility within the prison estate—whatever that means—and we are to use police cells for convicted prisoners. At the same time, if the Bill goes through unamended, the real vigour of the prisons inspectorate will have been lost.
The overcrowding in our prisons is pertinent to this debate because overcrowding means that rules cannot be kept to and prisoners' rights go out of the window. The number of prisoners in the system and their welfare go hand-in-hand, and the prison inspectors are the guardians of that welfare.
As the noble Lord said, this is not a new position in which the country finds itself—we have been here before. In the late 1980s, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, the then Lord Chief Justice, in his inquiries into the Prison Service following the Strangeways riots, identified overcrowding as bringing perpetual crisis management to the system. He was right. Considering a reduction in the individual independence of the prisons inspectorate at this time and proposing to lump it in with other inspectorates is wrong. If there has ever been a time when there is a need for a hands-on separate prisons inspectorate, it is now.
In July, I told the House that, although it might be expected that the Prison Officers' Association would welcome this change in the prisons inspectorate, in fact it did not do so. This morning I again contacted the POA general-secretary, Brian Caton, who told me that the POA continued to believe that the amalgamation of the prisons inspectorate with other inspectorates would,
"delete its effect and be disastrous".
I agree. I ask the House to support the amendment.
My Lords, first, I extend my great congratulations on a most incredible and powerfully argued speech from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I think that that sentiment is probably shared by most of us in the House today. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate, whose outrage and astonishment I share.
When this issue was debated in Committee, it was argued passionately and almost unanimously that the prisons inspectorate should not be merged into the proposed new mega-inspectorate. Few voices, if any, apart from those of the Government, were raised in favour of the proposition, and I believe that the Summer Recess has done nothing to diminish that passion. It is devoutly to be hoped that this time the Government really will have ears to hear and will listen.
The arguments for retaining the separate identity, independence and unique role of the prisons inspectorate remain the same and are, I believe, overwhelming. When we are dealing with issues concerning the treatment of people who have been deprived of their liberty and are locked away out of the public gaze, there has to be a body with the independence, expertise and muscle to ensure that international human rights standards are complied with and that safety is maintained. That is what our highly respected and internationally admired prisons inspectorate currently does.
We think that we live in a civilised country but that does not guarantee that what happens in our prisons is always civilised—far from it. Indeed, it is arguable that the current chronic overcrowding of our jails makes it almost inevitable that it is not, when people are literally warehoused and churned from place to place as beds become available and any form of rehabilitation is virtually impossible. The excellent reports from the inspectorate demonstrate that but, more than that, there is evidence that the inspectorate contributes directly to promoting change and good practice as a result of its recommendations. Indeed, it also draws attention to existing good practice and helps to disseminate that too.
The inspectorate is so much more than an auditor of process and systems. It requires very special knowledge and insight to inspect properly the treatment in and conditions of penal custody. Without it, there is little doubt that there is a serious risk that standards of treatment will drop and breaches of human rights of prisoners will take place. There is also the concern from the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights that the Government's plan,
"would not be compatible with the requirement of the Optional Protocol to the [UN Convention against Torture] that there be independent monitoring of places of detention at the national level", without the insertion of specific guarantees. The six safeguards laid down by the JCHR to ensure compatibility have not all been addressed by the Government and, without them, it is not acceptable that current standards should be undermined by the Government's proposals.
I draw specific attention to one area which requires a particular specialist skill within that of the inspectorate as it currently operates. This concerns the children that we have in custody. Here, there is a separate specialist team, which uses child-centred, welfare-based criteria and has a different set of expectations from those used by the adult prison inspectors. It spends a lot of time talking to children. It conducts joint inspections with Ofsted and the Social Services Inspectorate, thus acknowledging the particular needs and issues of this relatively small but extremely important and sensitive area of inspection. It also demonstrates how importantly it rates partnership, working with other experts. We have heard nothing of the provision that the Government might make for this aspect of the inspectorate's work, and I should welcome a comment on this from the Minister when she replies.
The chief inspector's latest annual report demonstrates some alarming findings. The most recent annual survey of the juvenile population shows that an average of 73 per cent say that their bell is not answered within five minutes; more than a third say that they feel unsafe all the time; a quarter have been insulted or assaulted by staff; and 2 per cent say that they have been sexually assaulted by staff. The latest report from Huntercombe YOI expresses serious concern about the use of force to strip-search children—an acutely traumatic experience for those who have been abused before coming to prison, of whom there are a significant number. In the six months before the inspection, there were four child protection referrals following allegations made by children of abuse while being strip-searched. That is evidence taken by very qualified people who spend time talking to children, and it is taken very seriously.
It is interesting that in the child prisons—the STCs—inspections are carried out by CSCI alone because the children are very young. It took an investigation by my noble friend Lord Carlile into the treatment of children in custody to discover children experiencing practices which would be called child abuse in any other non-custodial setting. That demonstrates the real specialism of the inspectorate.
That is all shocking evidence which needs to be exposed to protect this particularly difficult and vulnerable group within the prison population—the children. As I have shown, it requires very specialist skills to uncover it, even when YJB monitors are on-site. How can we possibly allow this work to be diluted or compromised? I sincerely hope that this time the Government will be able to listen to the arguments from all sides of the House and reconsider their position, where the whole will be far less than the sum of its parts. There is too much at stake.
My Lords, many years ago, a man called Blake escaped from prison, and the Mountbatten report was produced afterwards. At the end of that report, I was approached, along with some rather special people with whom I was living at the time, and asked to go round prisons, to look at them and to produce some suggestions about making them harder to escape from. I had the full support of every prison governor and many of the senior warders. I visited, with a little team, and lived in prison. I hope we did our job well.
I got very close to the then inspector of prisons whom I thought was a remarkable man. Even then he was worried. I shall not say which political party was in power and speaking from these Benches it does not really matter. He told me that because there had been a disaster, the heavy hand of government was on him every day—harder and harder—and he was frightened of losing his independence as the Chief Inspector of Prisons. We did what we could to help him—I am not saying that that was very successful—but the Government of the day did not treat him particularly well. The lesson I learnt over several months in the prisons business was that such a man or woman must be entirely independent, reporting only to the very highest in the land at top Secretary of State level. I am rather horrified by what is being proposed tonight. I think it is completely wrong.
My Lords, I apologise for not being present in July, but I was taken ill. I remind the House that I have the privilege of chairing the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs. The Government's proposal to abolish the independent inspector of prisons is entirely perverse, not least at this time. My noble friend Lady Quin objected to the word "crisis", but perhaps we can agree on the word "failure". Any system that spends £37,000 of taxpayers' money every year on locking up each prisoner when two years later 73 in every 100 are back behind bars must be rated as a failure. I am bothered and alarmed that there is not more public concern over that waste of resources. Something clearly is not working in the prison system.
I am especially bothered about the proposals relating to the inspector of prisons as it is precisely at times of overcrowding, with jails bulging at the gates, that added pressures are put on staff. Added pressures on staff mean that mistakes are made, rules are broken and the rights of those whom we lock up are not respected, but ignored. The bigger the pressures on overcrowding, the more mistakes are made, and any attempt at sensible rehabilitation and proper, consistent education goes out the window as well. That is bad enough and adds to the waste of resources but now, because of the pressures on staff, under the Government's proposals, those behind locked doors will not be properly inspected.
I would like the Minister to explain to the House what extra benefits we shall receive from this new jumbo system of inspection of our prisons. What is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons not doing now that will be more effectively done under this amalgamated system? I hope my noble friend can spell that out because there has to be a reason for this proposal that makes some sense. It gives me no pleasure to say that the Government will not have my support tonight on this proposal. They do not deserve it.
We have an outstanding system of inspection of our prisons that is literally the envy of the world. I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, a very distinguished former Chief Inspector of Prisons, has said. People from all over the world beat a path to the door of whoever holds the office of Chief Inspector of Prisons to learn how we do this. The pity is that, dare I say, over the years successive Governments and successive Home Secretaries have not taken enough notice of what inspectors have said. Is it not right that time without number the response is, "That was six or eight or nine months ago and most of these recommendations have been put in place"? We know that that simply is not the case.
I urge the Minister to listen to what is being said all around the House. This system deserves and demands to be kept in place, especially at times when we are running out of cells in which to put convicted prisoners. I hope that she will listen and abandon this proposal.
My Lords, I add the support of these Benches to all the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Grouped with those are two rather modest amendments in my name—Amendments Nos. 88 and 89—and I suggest that the mood of the House might not be with me were I to try to speak to them. I propose to table them at Third Reading for consideration, if the Minister is happy with that. They relate to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The guiding principle to which we have adhered is that it is wrong to damage the authority and independence of the Inspectorate of Prisons. We believe that the Government's proposals would do just that. In Committee, I set out our beliefs and arguments in detail. It would not be appropriate for me at this stage to repeat them.
I recall that, a lifetime ago, when I was a student reading law reports and trying with my addled brain to make sense of them, one member of the Court of Appeal seemed to say almost every time merely, "I agree and have nothing to add". I used to wonder why he wasted that opportunity to put forward his point of view. Tonight is that time. The passionate convictions have been put and the expertise has been revealed by all those who have exposed the weaknesses of the Government's proposals. All the arguments have been persuasive. So I agree and have nothing to add, except my passionate conviction that the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, are right.
My Lords, I have, of course, listened with the greatest care—and with a little alarm and anxiety—to everything that has been said. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his very powerful speech said, "Don't shoot the messenger". In addition he suggested that the messenger was the purveyor of objective information. These amendments are not designed to shoot and do not shoot the messenger. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that I have never for one moment ever thought, "Who will rid me of this troublesome inspector?".
My Lords, I understood him to have felt that. I do not share his anxiety. We have understood that inspection, with all its rigour and its painful, acute attention, brings to our scrutiny something that nothing else could give us. I agree with all those who say that we demand and need that level of acute objectivity. I do not hesitate to say that there are some who are thereby greatly assisted in Government. The argument in support of certain changes and difficulties becomes easier if there is support, encouragement, information and data in a report, enabling them to make it with greater power. I see the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who has doubtless had a common experience, nodding his head. I make it plain to the House that we do not make these changes on the basis that they will dilute, divert or in any way subtract from the acuity which has been brought to bear on this issue. Inspection has value.
However, as wonderful as our inspector of prisons is now and has been, all the successors in title are equally difficult, and long may it be so. Noble Lords will perhaps remember his honour Judge Tumim, who was succeeded by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Anyone who thought that the replacement would make it easier soon learnt their mistake. After the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, shuffled off this particular mortal coil, Anne Owers took up the cudgels. She has been equally vigorous. We have on each occasion found someone of real calibre to discharge this duty. If anyone wishes to know whether super-human beings exist, they need only listen to the debates in this House. We seem to have a large number of them here.
Our proposals will not undermine the quality of inspection. My noble friend Lord Corbett asked what this new inspectorate adds. It adds a great deal. I remind the House that we are talking about five independent inspectorates, each of them excellent. We rely on each to give us that level of change. Things have changed, however, and I must remind the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, how much. He talked about a justice inspectorate working to a single Minister, and points out that there are three. On a number of occasions, I have shared with this House the significant changes since the 2003 Act. The creation of the National Criminal Justice Board with the local criminal justice boards means that the three Ministers, together with the subordinate Ministers who discharge this duty, come together in the National Criminal Justice Board every month to make significant decisions about how the criminal justice system should be managed end to end.
Through that process, we have learnt that the system must be just that if we are to protect individuals, and provide rehabilitation and change. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester said that he was shocked and surprised. I confess that I was shocked and surprised that he should think that we are in any way cynical about our work. I assure him that the passion we feel for changing is by no means diminished, and any action in this regard, although we may disagree, is not due to any degree of male fides. I hope that he will accept that as the truth.
Let us look at the added value. There are huge gaps in what we do and what we know, which must be filled. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said that while 80,000 people are in our prisons, only a small percentage would be subject to supervision. I again remind him of the changes in the 2003 Act, meaning that in the majority of sentences people will spend part of their time in custody and the rest in the community.
My Lords, I did not say "a small proportion". I said "less than half". I think I am right in saying that some of the provisions of the 2003 Act, such as custody plus, have not been able to be enacted. That may well be the intention, but I suggest that it is not currently the case.
My Lords, the system we are putting in place is not simply to deal with the situation today, but the whole framework we wish to have in place for the criminal justice system as a whole. We are moving to a situation when it will not just be the period in prison, but will also extend to the period in the community. We are determined to reduce the unacceptable level of recidivism. That involves the seven pathways—which the noble Lord will know about—the work we must do across the piece, and the link between the juvenile estate and the adult estate and making sure they dovetail. We are not prescribing a framework for what is now, but what will be. That is an important issue.
We believe that we have fully registered the concerns about dilution of prisons inspectorates. The Bill preserves the existing remit of the Chief Inspector of Prisons as a special duty. It places a statutory duty on the chief inspector to maintain expertise in inspectorate staff. Transition will be managed to ensure business continuity. On the date, we have of course made plain that this will take time. We said that we would only abolish the prisons inspectorate when the new chief inspector is fully able to take on the role. To facilitate a smooth transition, the appointment of the current Chief Inspector of Prisons has been extended until April 2008. It is hoped that the timetable will encompass such a smooth transition before then. However, it is of course open to Ministers to review a further extension if the timetable proves not to fit into the April 2008 framework. That is what we intend, and how we propose to deal with it.
There has been a suggestion that this could be a cost issue—my noble friend Lady Quin was concerned about costs. I assure her and the House that we expect a one-off cost of setting up the inspectorate of about £2 million. Over time, there should be some efficiency savings, but we expect to maintain total annual funding at broadly existing levels: approximately £20 million per year. Those costs will be met by the business areas in the Home Office, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the office of the Attorney-General, which are responsible for funding the existing five—
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Will she confirm that, under the new arrangements, it will be for the new chief inspector to determine the budgetary priorities between the various aspects of the inspection? Does she accept that one of the worries that many of us have is that ministerial direction may influence those priorities in such a way as to impede the proper functions of the prisons inspectorate?
My Lords, I understand that that is an anxiety. That is why, in structuring, we are putting a specific duty on the existing remit of the chief inspector to ensure that the prisons duty will be carried out. I assure your Lordships that we will be as zealous about those matters as we are now. That is not going to change.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that every single speaker this evening, other than the Minister, has indicated that they regard the present system as making Ministers and the Prison Service more accountable? Would it not therefore be sensible not to diminish public confidence in the system, but to keep the system as it is now for the sake of public confidence?
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that although I have been in this House for quite a long time, my hearing has not been diminished. I understand what has been said and I have internally digested it. It is only right and fair that I should say to the House that I understand and hear noble Lords' anxiety. I understand what they fear and, indeed, why they fear it, but it is my role to try to assist the House to understand why those fears, which have been properly, eloquently and expansively expressed, are not founded in fact. It is of course open to the House in due course to disagree, but that is our democracy and that is the purpose. If there is only one person who will defend the Government's position, your Lordships may notice that it should be me.
We have considered these issues because these concerns were very much our concerns. We have carefully considered the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and are now introducing an express requirement that every place of detention should be inspected and clarifying that nothing can prevent the chief inspector from making unannounced inspections. That meets the proper concerns expressed. We have also considered the concern that there will no longer be a single senior independent office-holder with sole responsibility for prison inspections. We intend to develop a strong senior management structure with function-based heads, backed up by the retention of existing specialist expertise throughout organisations to whom the chief inspector can delegate responsibility for specific areas. We are not seeking to diminish that level of expertise. That is true not just for prisons.
The only other matter to answer is the query of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the immigration regulator. That position has yet to be decided, but I will certainly make sure that the House is kept informed. We will not commence the justice inspectorate's new duty to inspect the immigration enforcement system until the position is clear. Meanwhile, there will be no break in the inspection of immigration detention facilities.
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will she answer the question I put to her? What will the new arrangements for the inspector of prisons add to what is currently done?
My Lords, the nature of prisons has changed. At the moment, the prison inspectorate deals with all issues, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, says, health, education and other matters have been dealt with jointly. As a result of changes made for those in prison, we now want multi-disciplinary inspections which do not just look at the health and safety issues but at the relationship with inmates, the transfers and the planning of care plans.
As regards the specialists, we will now have a specialist team, independently scrutinising these issues, which we believe will add value to what is already done. It will not diminish what is being done, because we hope that that will be maintained, but in addition there will be a greater degree of expertise and acuity from the other professionals conducting the joint inspections.
A number of reports, not least from Andrew Bridges, the Chief Inspector of Probation, have outlined graphically how they see the added value. We believe that as a result of the joined-up working, we will be able to get not only what we have now, but the added value of a joined-up inspection. For those reasons, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, not to press his amendment. Hell will doubtless freeze over first.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who have spoken with such power and clarity and—dare I say it?—unanimity on this issue. I also thank the Minister for the care with which she has listened to what has been said and for the habitual courtesy with which she has responded. But she has not persuaded me by what she has said, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 90:
Page 27, line 29, leave out subsections (7) to (9).
My Lords, in the light of the outcome of the Division, I think it would be right for me to advise the House that I shall not now move the government amendments in this group: Amendments Nos. 90, 93 and 97.
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.37 pm.