Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 20th March 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 5:00 pm, 20th March 2012

My Lords, this amendment does not ask for much. It is indeed modesty itself. It asks for a focus, a group of people in the Ministry of Justice whose job should be to carry forward the excellent policies that the Minister told the House about in Committee. It makes it clear that the Ministry of Justice cannot do this on its own and calls for the Ministry of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office to be involved-a point that has just been ably made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. It makes it clear that they should report to a ministerial group and that there should be an annual report.

This amendment is not a criticism of the Government's work so far, nor of that of the previous Government. It is recognition that this is a particularly intractable problem. Efforts are made by many people, and the situation gets a little better, but then it reverts. The Minister will know, because he has just kindly answered a Written Question that I asked, that the Chief Inspector of Prisons said of the Keller unit at Styal prison that it constitutes,

"a wholly unsuitable place to safely hold and manage very seriously damaged and mentally ill women".

The conditions in which such women are held in Styal prison have been criticised on and off for many years. On 15 February, in Committee, the Minister said that,

"one does not need to visit many women's prisons to see that far too many prisoners should not be there".-[Hansard, 15/2/12; col. 876.]

Ministers have said that before. This is not politically contentious. There is wide agreement about what should happen but sadly it does not change or it changes at the margins-one aspect improves while another deteriorates.

That is why there is wide support among those who are concerned with this issue for a statutory framework, a strategy, a focal point and an annual report that will allow Parliament to see if at last we are moving forwards and seeing improvements that last. I very much hope that the Minister will support this modest proposal.