Prison Reform — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:25 pm on 21st January 2016.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat 12:25 pm, 21st January 2016

My Lords, I start this speech in some confusion. I came along quite ready to explain to the House how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. It is something of an emotional shock for me to say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, as well. An observer of the debate might say, “Well, where is the problem?”. I think that we all know where the problem is—and it is not in this House, which frequently has very liberal debates on issues such as this. The problem is down the Corridor, it is in the media and it is on the doorstep when we go canvassing. That is worth putting in perspective. We still have other audiences to convince.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for this timely debate, to which he has attracted some very well-informed contributors. I declare that I am the current chairman of the Youth Justice Board. It is always a delight for me to follow my noble friend Lord Dholakia, who has been my mentor on these issues over many years. I think that we are all grateful chiefly to the Prison Reform Trust for an excellent brief, which gave us the basic figures: 85,000 people in prison, nearly 4,000 of them women; fewer than 1,000 under-18s, fewer than 50 of them girls; 45% of adults reoffend within a year of release; and 67% of under-18s reoffend.

As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, reminded us, quoting the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, there are genuine concerns about safety in both the adult and young people’s secure estate, and genuine questions are being asked about the capacity of our penal system to rehabilitate or reform, as the reoffending rates seem to indicate. But I also believe that, as others have said, there are grounds for optimism. Since Mr Gove became Justice Secretary, he has been asking the right questions and has gone about finding the right answers.

He has asked Mr Charlie Taylor to produce a wide-ranging report on the youth justice system, and the Youth Justice Board is co-operating fully in that exercise. The longer I am in this job, the more I am convinced that a successful youth justice system is how to cut crime off at its headstream. He has appointed Dame Sally Coates to look at education in our prisons. I am sure, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, just indicated, that his experience at the Department for Education is of value in giving education and training the proper priority they should have within our prison system. Of course, his plan to close the Victorian inner-city prisons gets rid of some real eyesores, and makes the argument to the Treasury, as the MoJ becomes a property developer, that it can use some of that money to build proper modern prisons for the 21st century.

The case for reform also benefits from parallel work being done, often under the leadership of Members of this House. As we have heard, mental health has been championed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, in his two ground-breaking reports. We have had the recent report of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on deaths in custody. The benchmark for the issue of women in prison is still the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston. There is the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on which I have the honour to serve, looking at the overrepresentation of looked-after children in our criminal justice system. The overrepresentation of black and ethnic minorities has been the subject of a report by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and ongoing work by her. My noble friend Lord Carlile produced a very useful report on the effectiveness of the youth justice system and the magistracy. My colleague and noble friend Lady Tyler also works as chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. All will supply valuable assistance to a reforming Secretary of State, as will the views of our next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

Time is too short to cover all the good work being done. Let me mention just two points, partly linked to what the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, was saying. There is good work being done by my old college, UCL, on brain development, while the Disabilities Trust Foundation is working at the Keppel unit at Wetherby on the impact of brain injury on young offenders. I intend to ask them to come to the Lords later this year to present their findings. Let me also refer to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, on IPPs. I was the Minister who brought that Bill through this House and I can say, without equivocation, that the intention of Parliament at that time was to bring to an end the scandal of IPPs. Section 128 was put into the Act specifically for that purpose. I hope that the Minister has some progress to tell the House about.

There is another real reason for optimism, which is what Michael Gove has been saying. One of his first speeches as Justice Secretary was entitled, “The treasure in the heart of man”. That is a direct quote from the speech made by Winston Churchill as Home Secretary in 2010—no, in 1910. Would that he were here to make it now. He said then:

“The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country”.—[Hansard, Commons, 20/7/1910; col. 1354.]

And so it is. If it is in that spirit and mood that Mr Gove takes forward his reforms, he can certainly rely on support from all parts of this House.